One-stop support center for domestic abuse victims coming to City Hall

Though St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman took the first whack of the ceremonial sledgehammer last week to launch the creation of a new domestic abuse service center in City Hall, there’s still much money and many resources needed before the long-awaited project can open its doors.

After renovations are complete this spring, the 5,000-square-foot space with marble floors and vaulted ceilings will house the Partnership for Domestic Abuse Services, a collaboration of more than 20 public and social service agencies. Partners include the St. Paul Police Department, the attorneys’ offices of Ramsey County and St. Paul, the St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, Children’s Safety Centers and several community groups.

“Wonderful services exist, but they’re all scattered right now,” says Danielle Kluz, the partnership’s project coordinator. “When a women walks into the new center, she will meet with an advocate who will talk to her and find out what her needs are. Does she need an order for protection? A police report? Does she need to talk to someone from the county or city attorney’s office? We’ll have those services on site.”

Center will be culturally sensitive
Kluz says there will also be a medical practice in the center that could be used for forensic exams. She says the partnership is also committed to meeting cultural or language requirements for victims from underserved communities.

“That’s why we have partners like Casa de Esperanza, Women of Nations and OutFront Minnesota,” says Kluz. “We really want a place for victims to feel comfortable and get their needs met.”

All of the collaborating agencies will tap their own budgets to “lend” staff to the center. The only center employees will be coordinator Kluz, a receptionist and a child-care worker. The city has agreed to donate the space to the partnership for 10 years.

But whether the center will be ready to open on time depends on raising at least $280,000 a year to cover operating costs. That might not seem a daunting figure, given that Kluz and other partners recently raised $710,000 to finance construction.

The project, however, doesn’t want to tap sources already funding the dozens of agencies that currently help victims, Kluz saus. Her solution is to work in collaboration with the Ramsey County Bar Association, which will provide an entrée for the center to solicit funding from law firms in the Twin Cities. The partnership also is accepting donations through its website. (Kluz told me of a possible new funding source but said she can’t release details yet.)

Advocates for victims of domestic abuse have been trying to sell Ramsey County and St. Paul officials on a one-stop service center in since 2004. In late 2006, Coleman announced that the city would offer space to the service center in City Hall. It took another 15 months, though, for the partner agencies to raise the $710,000 needed for renovation.

Hennepin County had first such center in nation
The partnership is modeled after the Hennepin County Domestic Abuse Service Center, which was the first of its kind in the nation when it opened in 1994. There are now about 15 such centers.

“We’re seeing very good outcomes around the country,” says Kluz. “Other cities are finding it’s really efficient. Victim satisfaction is higher because they’re more willing to come forward because they know there’s somewhere they can go.”

St. Paul City Hall is housed inside the Ramsey County government building, a secure facility complete with guards and metal detectors. Kluz says a survey of victims needs found that although some were put off by the public safety presence at the building, most were not.

“They would know they’d be safe, that their abuser wouldn’t get through,” says Kluz of the victim feedback she’s seen. “Good security in the building and convenience of location, at the courthouse, is a huge boon for us.”

Once it opens, the service center will be open during normal business hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. An after-hours crisis line would handle calls outside those hours. Although victims won’t be able to get all the onsite help they need when the center is closed, Kluz says, there are a half-dozen agencies that could assist victims and direct them to the center when it’s open.

“It’s going to break down a lot of barriers,” says Kluz. “It’s easy for victims to get discouraged if they have to go to one office, then another and another. But we’re going to cut down on red tape as much as possible. The great thing is, we’ll provide a wide variety of services that will be available under one roof.”

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