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Turning heartache into hope

CWS activist Jennifer Tan amazed by new facility for abused women


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Melissa Erlbaum, executive director of Clackamas Women's Services, and Lt. Graham Phalen of the Clackamas County Sheriffs Office are happy to show off the new Family Justice Center for abused women.A Safe Place Family Justice Center is the best possible holiday gift for Jennifer Tan, not to mention the many women who suffer from domestic violence.

A city councilor for West Linn, Tan has been vitally involved with helping abused women through Clackamas Women’s Services for the past four years as a volunteer and board member. For Tan the new facility in Oregon City will make a life-or-death difference for hundreds of women who are subjected to domestic violence — freeing themselves of abusive partners and assuring the safety of their families.

“To have all of the services abused women need under one roof is amazing,” Tan said. “I am so grateful for the Family Justice Center.” by: SUBMITTED - Jenni Tan

Survivors of domestic violence will be able to talk with a counselor, file a police report, find a battered-women’s shelter, join a support group and get a restraining order from a judge — all in one building called A Safe Place.

A Safe Place is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. All of the on-site partners, including a couple of organizations dedicated to providing culturally specific service to the Latino population, were confident that any service gaps would be worked out since the center already can help victims.

While helping people who greatly need it, Tan has gained a greater understanding of domestic violence. She has found it is an evil that afflicts all classes of people, no matter what their economic status.

“I realized that domestic violence had no lines,” Tan said. “It can happen to anyone. I was at a luncheon where the speaker was an abused woman who comes from a great family. She had just married the wrong person.”

Negotiating the justice system for abuse survivors is often so extremely difficult that they give up and go back to their abusers. The Family Justice Center opened its doors Dec. 10 and that situation will hopefully turn around for abused women of West Linn and all of Clackamas County.

“The reason I so believe in this model is that in 17 years in this field I’ve seen some really hard things,” said Melissa Erlbaum, executive director of Clackamas Women’s Services. “The thing that struck me the hardest was when victims went back to their abusive relationship. That was better than navigating the justice system. It was so broken it was wearing people down. It was breaking down what little spirit they had.

“The Family Justice Center is a win-win for everyone. It’s more than just a one-stop shop for victims. The survivor can do whatever they want. They’re in control. In countless ways the new system is so much better.”

One of the best ways is that victims now have a circuit video-conferencing system that is directly linked to the courthouse, which allows them to apply for a restraining order from a safe distance.

There is so much more: child care and culturally-based services; immediate access to a wide range of services on site to reduce frustration and stress for victims; a secure and staffed play space for children that reduces the trauma of hearing the violence retold; and a safe environment for both participants and service providers.

A Safe Place houses eight governmental and nonprofit organizations at 256 Warner Milne Road to offer “one-stop shopping so we can provide wraparound services to victims, so families don’t have to go place-to-place,” said Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said. “Our goal in talking with survivors is to let them know that when they’re ready to leave, we’ll be ready to help them, and what we’ve seen is that they’ll make that call if we’re not judging them for staying with their abuser.”

The Family Justice Center was originally a goal of Roberts’ and the cause was taken up by Erlbaum when she joined CWS six years ago.

Clackamas County cut the ribbon Dec. 10 on the facility, among the largest dedicated to preventing domestic violence in the state. Roberts originally proposed that the building would be even larger. Although the Children’s Center ended up building its own 10,000-square-foot building in 2011, it remains one of the Family Justice Center’s eight off-site partners.

Clackamas Women’s Services completely relocated to A Safe Place from its offices on Main Street in Oregon City. The nonprofit will continue to operate its shelter at an undisclosed location, and its hub in Estacada will serve as a “mini-family-justice center” with Clackamas County services on site, said Erlbaum, a longtime proponent of the project.

The pace on the project picked up rapidly over the past two years as the CWS fundraising campaign to raise $2.5 million for the center grew more successful. The program picked up a federal block grant, and it was successful in attracting partners from governments, businesses and agencies, especially the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners and the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, which provided the Shaver Building to house the center. The need for such a facility for victimized women and their children was something people of all political persuasions could agree on.

“I expect the Family Justice Center to serve over 2,000 women a year,” Erlbaum said. “It has everything you can think of to help a woman trying to get out of an abusive relationship. Spiritual support, housing services, safe and secure child care, legal aid and counseling. When I started at CWS we were doing good work, but there was not a fully integrated agency like we have now.”

The ultimate success of the center will largely depend on how fundraising goes.

“My husband and I want to donate,” Tan said. “I hope others do as well.”

A Safe Place Family Justice Center is located at 256 Warner Milne Road in Oregon City. For more information, call Erlbaum at 503-655-8600 or visit cwsor.org.

— Clackamas Review News Editor Raymond Rendleman contributed to this story.

What donations can do

$1,000 = 14 hotel vouchers for the times when the center cannot provide shelter and there is an extreme need.

$500 = Cost of leasing a printer/fax/scanner for the community-based, counseling and youth prevention programs.

$250 = Snacks for one year for one of 12 teen groups in elementary/middle/high schools across Clackamas County.

$100 = Two tanks of gas for the shelter van, which takes participants to important appointments.

$50 = Two large packages of diapers or two weeks’ worth of paper products at the shelter.

$25 = A one-week bus pass so a survivor can travel independently.

— See more at cwsor.org/donate.



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