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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 13, 2010

Planning begins for justice center

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Planning kicked off this week for a family justice center that, once opened in about two years, will house services for victims from legal to medical help under one roof.

The city has secured about $400,000 in federal grant funding for planning, equipment purchases, training and other expenses. The next step is deciding where the center will be, and which agencies and services will be there.

In meetings Tuesday and yesterday at the state Capitol, advocates and victims of domestic violence started those talks with two executives from the National Family Justice Center Alliance in San Diego who were contracted by the city to help launch the project.

The thrust of those gatherings was, in part, to bring together community and law enforcement agencies who work on domestic violence so they can decide what a family justice center would have and even what it wouldn't.

Gael Strack, chief executive of the alliance, told the attendees Tuesday that in these times of budget cuts and limited resources, many communities are talking about how they can't meet growing needs for domestic violence services.

She said it's refreshing to hear a community discussing how they can pool their resources to better serve clients. "This is actually the best time to get together," she said.

The talks were also a chance to air some advocates' concerns about the project, which range from whether the facility would divert funding away from their agencies to worries the center would have a strong law enforcement presence.

Cindy Spencer, vice president of community and capacity building for the Honolulu nonprofit Domestic Violence Action Center, said sometimes battered women "don't want to involve police in their life."

She said it's important that victims feel comfortable coming to the center, and don't feel pushed into dealing with officers if they don't want to file a police report.

But she also said that she has heard from many survivors who expressed support for a place that would offer many services, so they wouldn't have to go all over to get help.

"If this is what victims want, we need to go there," she said.

Honolulu city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle opened the discussions Tuesday by telling about 40 attendees, including police, deputy prosecutors and advocates from nonprofits, that "nothing is set in stone" and that the prosecutor's office isn't interested in dictating the feel or culture of the center.

"We want you and we want your input and, most importantly, we want the input of victims," Carlisle said.

There are about 60 family justice centers operating nationally, and each is run differently, based on the cultural and socio-economic needs of the community it serves, said Casey Gwinn, president of the San Diego-based alliance.

An additional 130 centers are being planned, he said.

Gwinn said the idea behind the center is simple: One building houses representatives from multiple agencies, such as police, legal aid and counseling and treatment nonprofits.

The agencies pay for the salaries of their employees.

Seed money and other funding covers the salary of the center's director and the cost of rent, supplies and other expenses.

Gwinn said Hawai'i will probably need more than one center, so that the convenience of going to a "one-stop shop" for help isn't lost. He also said that though it might take about two years for the center to start up, the concept that drives the center working together should start right away.

"The bottom line is 'we' are more powerful than 'I,' " he said.