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HIGH POINT — As she gives a tour of the space that will become the Family Justice Center in downtown High Point, agency Director Catherine Johnson provides a vivid, hypothetical example of a case that most likely will become a real-life situation of a family in crisis.

A desperate woman with children was assaulted the night before by her husband, whose now in custody of police. She comes to the Family Justice Center because she’s not sure where she’ll find the help she needs to protect herself and her children.

The Family Justice Center can immediately provide legal aid to the women as she seeks a restraining order or other assistance through the courts. She can consult with a law enforcement officer to follow up on criminal charges against her abuser, as well as make contact with a representative from the Guilford County District Attorney’s Office about how prosecution will proceed.

She also can talk with someone at the center who can secure a safe place for the woman and her children to go if they don’t want to return home. If the family needs aid with the necessities of daily life, the woman can meet with a social services case worker.

“All of those things can happen for her here. There’s no going place to place,” Johnson said. “You have professionals offering support in one spot. You can have 10 to 12 agencies that can help all here.”

After more than a year of planning, the Family Justice Center should start assisting its first clients in the middle to late part of September, Johnson told The High Point Enterprise.

Work crews are making steady progress converting a 7,000-square-foot space in the Guilford County Courthouse for the center’s home. The space will serve as a clearinghouse to help victims of domestic violence and elder abuse.

The location is former county Guilford County Clerk of Court office space that was left vacant several years ago when the staff was moved to the first floor of the courthouse. The entrance to the Family Justice Center will be along Green Drive near the intersection with Centennial Street, and one of the upgrades at the site includes a new small, paved parking area off Green Drive for the center.

“One of the things that was really important with putting the center here was making sure that clients could access it directly from parking,” Johnson said.

The Family Justice Center will have a separate entrance and exit than the one on the other side of the courthouse where visitors have to go through a security screening checkpoint.

“It will be distinctly separate from the courthouse,” she said.

Clients who enter the Family Justice Center will come into a large lobby and initially meet with a representative to determine why they need help. After the initial consultation, the client would go to one of six private rooms to meet with a center representative to specify what assistance is needed.

Another part of the center will include offices for representatives of the various partners of the Family Justice Center, such as law enforcement, court representatives and nonprofit agencies.

Johnson said that she estimates the High Point Family Justice Center will serve at least 2,000 to 3,000 clients in its first year. The Greensboro Family Justice Center has helped 18,000 clients since it opened three years ago.

The Family Justice Center represents a collaborative effort between the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and High Point City Council.

Last year the council committed up to $500,000 in a one-time appropriation to help with upfit and capital costs for a center location. The commissioners, in turn, voted unanimously to provide the operational budget for the day-to-day work at the center.

Johnson told The Enterprise that the renovations to the courthouse space will take about all the $500,000 that the council provided.

The renovations are the most visible part — but not the only aspect — of the effort to get the community involved in the center’s work, Johnson said.

“We’ve been having monthly partnership meetings and steering committee meetings. The partnership meetings include people who will work in the building, but also community partners who will refer directly to us,” she said.

The community partners of the Family Justice Center include law enforcement, nonprofits and government agencies. The center will have 12 partner agencies that will be present at the site, Johnson said.

Volunteers can undergo training to help clients, such as accompanying them to provide support when they seek justice in court or tending to sons and daughters of abuse victims in the center’s children’s waiting area.

 

“We want to be a place where anyone can come for help,” Johnson said.

pjohnson@hpenews.com | 336-888-3528 | @HPEpaul