Officials adopt proven model to provide all services

Clackamas County is about to take a giant step forward in caring for some of the county’s most vulnerable victims — those who live with their predators.

Victims of domestic violence live in every community, and the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners has agreed to partner with law enforcement and local service providers to open a new facility.

The Family Justice Center of Clackamas will open in January 2013 on the Red Soils Campus in Oregon City. Plans have the center offering a safe location where law enforcement officials, legal service providers, victim advocates and community providers can work together to help families escape and recover from domestic violence.

The center is planned to be a place where victims can report a crime, plan for their safety, get counseling, obtain help with a restraining order and get information on shelter, medical help and transportation.

Family justice centers have opened across the country, said Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan. The centers are recognized as important aids in domestic violence prevention and intervention.

Family Justice Centers, Lehan said, have helped reduce homicides; increase victim safety; empower victims; reduce fear and anxiety for victims and their children; and reduce incidents where victims are intimidated.

While planning this venture, the county looked into a couple of established centers to see how they are working.

“A work group, including commissioners and county staff, went to visit the Nampa County, Idaho, center and also Multnomah County’s Gateway Center,” Lehan said. “We went to see firsthand how family justice centers work to assist victims of domestic violence.”

Without the justice-center model, victims are forced to visit multiple locations to access the many services they need to survive, said Melissa Erlbaum, executive director of Clackamas Women’s Services, a nonprofit shelter and victim service provider.

“I hear too many times victims say, ‘I’m just going to go back, because it’s easier to be there than it is to go to this meeting, to this place, to this courthouse,’ and that’s not OK,” Erlbaum said.

The Family Justice Center of Clackamas is expected to house all services for domestic-violence survivors, so they could meet with a law enforcement officer, file for a restraining order using a virtual courtroom, get child care and a medical exam — all in the same building.

Among the many officials and agencies approving of this concept is Sandy Police Chief Kim Yamashita, whose staff knows well the number of incidents and effects domestic violence has on this community.

In Clackamas County, 1,902 requests for shelter from domestic violence were made in 2010 to Clackamas Women’s Services. But only 148 were served. In the past two years, at least 112 Oregon victims were killed as a result of domestic violence.

The Board of County Commissioners has agreed to provide up to $100,000 to fund operations and staffing for the first six months of 2013. During this time, the Clackamas County Health, Housing, and Human Services Department will convene a work group of stakeholders to make plans for operating the center.

An existing county facility has been identified as a suitable location on Warner Milne Road. Any needed improvements would be paid from an existing allocation of federal funds. Staff salaries would be paid by the organizations that currently support those staff.

“We have to prioritize where our limited resources go,” said Commissioner Paul Savas. “The family justice center is a great example of how we can focus limited resources for maximum effect.”

Reporter Raymond Rendleman contributed to this article.

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