Family Justice Center in Santa Rosa reopens to hybrid in-person service
Nestled away in a nondescript Santa Rosa building, behind dark tinted glass and a series of locked doors, a collective of organizations works to support, protect and build up Sonoma County’s most vulnerable.
The Family Justice Center, located near Mendocino Avenue and Chanate Road, has served victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse for over 10 years.
Its operations were forced online and over telephone during the pandemic — but, starting this week, the center has reopened its doors to the public for hybrid services, with survivors invited to call and arrange in-person appointments.
“The Family Justice Center has been a safe harbor for thousands of people seeking assistance with issues around family violence, sexual assault, elder abuse and child abuse,” said District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who oversaw the creation of the center in October 2011. “The dedication of the staff is what makes the center successful.”
The center’s services have only become more crucial in recent years. Though domestic violence reports dropped in Sonoma County during the pandemic, international research suggests otherwise, with local advocacy groups arguing that increased fear of consequences explains the downturn in reporting.
At the end of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week on Saturday, the center is hosting a resource fair in its parking lot to raise awareness for vital resources it and other agencies provide to the community.
A collaborative effort
Everything about the Family Justice Center — its location, its design, its approach — is “victim-centered,” according to Executive Director Marsha Lucien.
Launched in 2011 by the District Attorney’s Office Victim Services Division , the center began in an effort to consolidate resources for survivors of violence, who often struggled with barriers to access. Before the center’s inception, Lucien said, it was estimated that people would have to visit 23 different locations to seek the services now provided in one building.
“That’s incredibly overwhelming,” said Lucien, and was part of the reason families would often fall through the cracks. Now, “to have someone walk with you through that and have everything in one place makes it so much easier and so much more accessible.”
The District Attorney’s Office collaborates with numerous government agencies, nonprofits and community organizations to staff the Family Justice Center — all of them working pro bono for any resident of Sonoma County.
Among those operating out of the building are the YWCA, which provides the center’s system navigators, who connect people with the right resources; Redwood Children’s Center, for child victims; Verity, for sexual assault survivors; Council on Aging, for victims of elder abuse; Catholic Charities, which handles immigration matters; and the county’s homeless outreach team, which helps coordinate emergency and long-term housing for people escaping violence.
Designed for victims’ safety and comfort
When victims arrive to the Family Justice Center, they are buzzed into a tranquil lobby through locked front doors by a friendly receptionist. A system navigator will then take them through an antechamber with unlabeled doors only passable with key cards.
“There’s a lot of attention paid to security,” said Lucien. “We really just wanted to emphasize safety for our survivors, so that they feel comfortable and know that they are going to be safe when they come to the FJC.”
Other elements of the center’s design are just as intentional. Upstairs, the Sheriff’s Office and Santa Rosa Police Department have their domestic violence units. And the interior of the building, called the “nest,” has warm, low lighting with neutral colored walls.
“There’s been plenty of victims, unfortunately, that this has been their safe haven, their way out,” said Tatiana Lopez, Director of Victim Services at the District Attorney’s Office.
Intake rooms have snacks, comfortable seating and cheery messaging on the walls, and survivors sit in one place during their visit as providers come to them.
Some of these “soft rooms” have windows out into a play area so parents can talk to providers while their children play out of earshot.
During their visit, people “get to decide how much or how little they want to do,” Lucien said, including criminal prosecution, creating a safety plan, getting a protective order, finding emergency housing or even just obtaining diapers and food.
Alongside help with social services and the criminal justice system, the center also offers regular yoga, peer support groups, veterinary care and sleep-away camps.
Saturday’s event for community to ‘get to know us’
On average, Lucien said, the Family Justice Center helps 2,000 families per year. The largest share of its services relates to domestic violence, followed by elder abuse.
Lopez has seen the positive impact the center has had on people navigating the criminal justice system.
“If you’re fully wrapped around by people that support you in your journey, you’re more likely to have that courage to go on the stand and testify,” she said.
She and Lucien planned Saturday’s event as a chance for “community members to know that we are here, that all these agencies are coming together to keep the community safe.”
The resource fair, which begins at 1 p.m. at the center, will host booths of about 30 different agencies, and also will have food, live performances and comfort dogs from Paws for Loving Support.
Lopez hopes the event will show survivors in the community “they don’t have to go it alone.”
“What is best for them is we all work together,” Lopez said.
You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @vv1lder.