ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Domestic violence victims have to navigate a complicated system to access resources across many different places, so Community Action Stop Abuse (CASA) wants to make the process easier for the survivors it serves.
CASA’s chief executive officer, Lariana Forsythe, said a new family justice center in Pinellas County will open next October, placing providers all under one roof for the first time in Florida.
"The police department will be coming here to talk to the survivor. The state’s attorney, immigration attorney, family attorneys, injunction for protection; they’ll all be coming to talk to the survivor on her turf," said Forsythe.
On average, CASA said victims travel 20 times, retell their story 17 times, fill out hundreds of pages of paperwork, and miss 53 hours of work. But a family justice center brings offices for police, court, mental health, and more, altogether, and a case manager coordinates everything for the survivor.
"At some point, you just say, ‘I’ve got to keep my job, I can’t deal with this,’ and so they give up getting a lot of the services that they need," said Forsythe about what some survivors experience. "So for them to truly get everything that they need, we have to simplify it for the survivor."
Forsythe said CASA’s current building will be renovated to add office space, community rooms, medical exam rooms, and more. CASA would also expand programs to another building across the street on Arlington Avenue North.
A fundraising campaign targeting private donors is currently underway to pay for the new family justice center. CASA already received city funds and will apply for federal grant money to help pay for the new services, Forsythe said.
"It was started in San Diego 20 years ago. And with the first family justice center, over the next 10 years, after it opened, they saw a 90-percent reduction in domestic violence homicide. So, the proof is there that the model works," said Forsythe.
CASA said Pinellas County had 12 domestic violence-related homicides so far this year, so leaders want solutions. Forsythe said the new family justice center can help save lives.
"We have lots of great partners doing lots of great work, but now we’re taking it and putting it in the survivor’s shoes and how do we really make it easy for the survivor to access everything that they need," Forsythe added.
The public opening for the family justice center will be in October 2022.