Press release from Buncombe County Government
In the aftermath of eight domestic violence homicides in 2013, Buncombe County leaders envisioned a safe place where survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault could easily access the resources they need to find shelter, counseling, seek legal action and start their journey toward healing.
In 2016 the doors of the Family Justice Center (FJC) opened, bringing together multiple partners in a collaborative model for crisis support. In the five years since the ribbon cutting, more than 2,500 new survivors who were not previously served have been able to access services to begin their journey toward healing, hope, and safety.
“When we launched the Family Justice Center five years ago, we all hoped and believed it would make a difference,” says County Commission Chair Brownie Newman. “Now, after serving thousands of survivors, we see the impact and reaffirm our commitment to a clear path toward help and hope.”
By the numbers
2,554 new individuals: Since the FJC opened in 2016, 2,554 new/unduplicated people have been able to access integrated intake at the FJC, this does not account for the number of times that those survivors have come back to continue to access services. Additional survivors have been served by the partner agencies, but did not need the consolidated intake service.
28 Forms: A case mapping in 2016, showed that a survivor who would have had to fill out 61 forms and travel eight times prior to the FJC, now only fills out 28 forms with as little as 2 trips. Many of these forms are part of the paperwork required by the court to file a Domestic Violence Protective Order.
1 Room: The Family Justice Center’s client dens allow a survivor to meet with different professionals without leaving the comfort of one room. Before 2016, survivors traveled to a dozen places and spoke with 21 people in their first few days after a traumatic event.
100%: From January–June of 2021, 100% of survivors who completed a survey after intake reported decreased levels of fear and anxiety.
How the pandemic has affected survivors
Research shows that rates, as well as intensity of domestic and sexual violence increase during natural disasters and the COVID pandemic is proving to be no exception.
As restrictions loosened, survivors seeking services in April 2021 rose 400% from the prior year and increased 614% for May 2021 when compared to the previous May.
During January-June 2020, 21% of new intakes saw more than one agency during their first visit compared to 65% in January—June 2021 showing the increased complexity of our cases.
65% of survivors provided integrated intake at the FJC accessed more than one agency in their first visit to the FJC during January—June 2021 – still holding steady at a higher percentage.
“Over the course of the last five years the FJC has championed, uplifted, and shared the voices of survivors across our community,” says FJC Division Manager Paulina Mendez. “At the FJC, we have the opportunity to interrupt intergenerational trauma. That’s huge for the public safety and well-being of our communities. I want to acknowledge all of the years of hard work and intentionality that went into planning the FJC and thank our partners and their staff for their collaborative spirit that makes this a successful model.”
The FJC has many partners in one location. Our partners, service providers, and collaborators include Asheville Police Department, Buncombe County Health and Human Services, Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, HCA/Mission Health Forensic Nurse Examiners, Helpmate, Mountain Child Advocacy Center, Our VOICE, Pisgah Legal Services, the SPARC Foundation, our survivor-led VOICES Committee, and the YWCA of Asheville.
Here are some of their stories.
The Buncombe County Family Justice Center VOICES group recently participated in a mock intake for services at the Buncombe County FJC. I took myself back to 2002 when each service was in a different location in Buncombe County. The day I sought help was cold and rainy and as I drove around downtown, looking for the unmarked door, fear and frustration begged me to turn around and go home. I feared what was going to happen; would anyone listen, was I really in crisis, would they take my child? I barely had the strength, courage, and energy to leave my house; each stop was one more barrier, one more door. With every door, I had to start over, sharing my situation, and wondering what would happen. I remember a time when my toddler son and I were in counseling at Helpmate and my son was scared no one was there to protect us. In the mock intake, I took in the fact that there wasn’t an unmarked door. The FJC building stands tall and strong, declaring the intent to protect. The officers in the building are there to promote safety while those who seek help can receive services from the agencies that collaborate and advocate for making our homes and community safe. I felt the impact of the Buncombe County FJC on those seeking services who just have to gather the strength to make one stop, enter one door, to begin one journey. ~ A Survivor’s Story
Pisgah Legal Services
As a participant in the development of the FJC, I got to witness how opening the FJC changed our clients’ experiences almost overnight. Survivors could suddenly meet with advocates and attorneys all in one place without having to secure additional transportation or make additional calls. They can see for themselves that we are working together to support them; now they go to court not just with an advocate or an attorney, but with a team. Over the next 5 years, I look forward to continuing to build on our partnerships and grow our program to increase access to our services for all survivors. ~ Julia Horrocks, Managing Attorney
Helpmate is grateful to be an on-site partner at the Buncombe County Family Justice Center. Having multiple services in a single location helps trauma survivors get the help they need more quickly. The collaboration between the partners in the FJC means that we do a better job of meeting victims’ needs and providing holistic, empowering care. When a domestic violence victim flees an abusive relationship, they are often dealing with multiple issues simultaneously. Survivors may wonder where they are going to live, how they are going to find food and other basic needs for themselves and their children, and they may be struggling with the physical and emotional impacts of living in a dangerous and traumatic environment. At the same time, they may be engaged with law enforcement and the courts as they seek legal protection. These experiences can be overwhelming; Helpmate has advocates at the FJC to help survivors navigate these complex and difficult questions and circumstances. We offer support, information, connection to resources, shelter, counseling and safety planning. Our hotline is open 24/7 so a survivor can get immediate support, and we meet victims in person at the FJC to support them with the help they need. Our work together at the FJC saves and changes lives, and offers hope to the next generation for a community built on peace, safety, and justice.
I hope that our community will continue to evolve and that people will learn the skills they need to form healthy relationships, resolve conflicts without violence, and be able to set and respect boundaries. Once we all truly embrace these values and learn these skills, we won’t need services like those at the FJC. Until that day, I hope that every survivor is heard, respected, and fully supported as they build new lives free from violence. ~ April Burgess-Johnson, Director
In the 5 years since the formation of Buncombe County FJC, I have witnessed a shift in the response to survivors of sexual and domestic violence, child maltreatment, and elder abuse. The enhanced collaboration among the Center’s partners has resulted in a holistic approach to the survivors’ needs; resulting in more profound successes for survivors.
My hope for the next five years is that Buncombe County continues to invest in the critical services the FJC provides. Furthermore, my hope is that the FJC maintains its commitment to address the issue of sexual violence and human trafficking, as well as the other forms of violence, through an inclusive lens where all survivors, no matter their identity, feel that they can access our services. ~ Angelica Wind, Former Director
You do not have to walk this path alone.
If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out. The FJC is located at 35 Woodfin St., Asheville, NC and you can reach us at (828) 250-6900. All of our services are free and we offer them in English and Spanish with additional interpretation available. We accept walk-ins, appointments, and referrals Monday – Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. You can also call Helpmate’s 24-hour hotline for domestic violence situations at (828) 254-0516 and you can reach Our VOICE’s 24-hour hotline at (828) 255-7576 for issues of sexual assault. If you are in immediate danger, please dial 911.