|Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services Opens
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
Located in an unassuming medium-sized yellow house behind two more official-looking buildings at 10305 E. Burnside St., it has a locked front door with an intercom. Visitors must state their business, and the receptionist can say no. A woman could call us, tell us she is coming down, say she is scared that her husband or boyfriend may come looking for her, and give us a description, Executive Director Rebecca Strawn Morris told the Memo. The several layers of security are for women who know all too well that if their abuser can find them, he will use well practiced tactics to lure her back to him. In case there is trouble, a Multnomah County sheriff's deputy sits in an office adjacent to the entrance, assisted by surveillance cameras that scan the parking lot.
All this is not without cause. Abusers who track down their mates to drag them home and/or exact physical retribution are an all-too-common reality. Most domestic violence shelters - which this Center is not as no one stays overnight - keep their location a closely-held secret for exactly this reason.
Once inside the Center becomes considerably more welcoming. After a visitor fills out a fairly brief form that includes questions about her personal circumstances and needs, a navigator guides her to those services within the Center. Gathered together for the first time ever are representatives from Multnomah County Legal Aid; Department of Human Services and District Attorney; the YWCA; Volunteers of America; Lifeworks NW: Native American Youth and Family Center; Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon's Russian Oregon Social Services; Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO); Catholic Charities El Programa Hispano; Bradley-Angle House; Association of Financial Planners; and representatives from Abuse Recovery and Ministry Services.
Depending on the abused woman's needs, these agencies can help her gain access to emergency shelter, food and rental assistance, legal, financial and/or spiritual counseling (which, as the list above indicates, is as culturally appropriate as possible), and securing a restraining order. The Center is one of only a few nationally to offer restraining orders through video technology, thus sparing victims a trip to the downtown Multnomah County Courthouse which can be difficult to navigate and where many victims fear for their safety. Judge Maureen McKnight, who hears such cases, could think of no specific cases of assault within the courthouse, but said there was often a perception of threat.
Even with so many resources together under one roof taking care of business at the Center can take awhile. Two comfortable waiting rooms, one with a kitchen so victims can feed themselves while they wait, as well as cubicles for private conversations, are housed within the Center. On-site day care, complete with indoor and outdoor play areas, is also available for the victims' children.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who has taken a personal interest in the creation of the Center - as he did with the Children's Receiving Center that came before it and was housed in the same building - and who acted as moderator at last month's grand opening, told of watching women seeking aid clutching a single-spaced piece of paper listing potential helping agencies scattered all over the city. It's awfully daunting for women with children in tow to negotiate that maze, he said. This is a way to make things easier.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who helped secure funding for the project, said, Battered and abused women will no longer have to go from government agency to government agency, from bureaucracy to bureaucracy, to get help. They will no longer have to leave the building. This is another step in the long journey to make women safe in our community.
Multnomah County Commission Chair Jeff Cogen said, We've come a long way from the days when domestic violence was not talked about in polite company. Last year there were more than 1,200 reported cases in Portland. There's a lot of shame associated with it and a need for confidentiality. If you're a victim, it's not that obvious where to go for help.
These are really tough times in the city, state and country. It's important to celebrate good news. It doesn't mean everything is okay, that our services are wide or deep enough, but it's an important step in helping people escape from an unspeakable life of oppression and suffering.
Teri Doyle, chair of the Center's Advisory Council and herself a domestic violence survivor, said, I had no idea there were so many fantastic organizations helping women, and men too. Morris, in her turn, credited the Council with important advice on what services to include in the Center. Saltzman had earlier credited Morris with putting together what had merely been a concept by the funding partners.
Cogen noted, When times are tough, the need for services go through the roof while the resources to fund them drop through the floor. We've already cut the budget three times this year. That doesn't mean we can not help, it means we have to be creative. In this spirit the Center is a joint product of several different public and private agencies, and the use of a building that was sitting empty. Giving credit to Saltzman, Cogen said, I hope you're feeling good about yourself today, Dan, because you deserve to be.
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, another politician who helped secure funding, said, We can't have a livable community without protection from violence against women. He described the creation of the Center's funding as making things out of stone soup.
Other politicians who attended the opening included City Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Randy Leonard and County Commissioners Deborah Kafoury, Diane McKeel, Judy Shiprack and Barbara Willer. A similar ceremony greeted the grand opening on the same site of the Children's Receiving Center, a temporary facility for children declared Wards of the Court, created largely through Saltzman's efforts. That program ultimately proved too costly to maintain.
Saltzman was out of town at press time. Aid Brendan Finn told the Memo that while no one can foresee the future, The funding for this facility is secure. It isn't one-time; it's part of the budget.
Since the opening, Morris says, the Center has had an average of 12 visitors a day. The busiest day was September 20 when it had 20, one of whom came twice, she says. The Web site is: http://www.gatewaydvcenter.org/
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