The Oklahoman: Family Justice Center Opens Thursday

By Matt Dinger
Published: February 3, 2017

An Oklahoma City Police Honor Guard presents the colors during a grand opening for Palomar, Oklahoma City's Family Justice Center, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

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Palomar, Oklahoma City’s Family Justice Center, officially opens its doors on Friday, but dozens have already arrived seeking help.

Oklahoma City police officers, district attorneys handling domestic cases, state agencies and nonprofit civic groups will now be collected under one roof to help victims of domestic violence get legal and personal help to break the cycle of abuse and start anew.

“Welcome to Palomar, Oklahoma City’s Family Justice Center. It’s a place for a location of collective impact, for collective resources and that victims of crimes, domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse, stalking, human trafficking, can come into one building. They can be greeted by our navigators, brought into a very safe room. They’ll be presented with a number of options for services provided to them,” Tricia Everest, president of Palomar’s board of directors, said during the opening ceremony.

Named after a type of fisherman’s knot that is considered to be the strongest and most reliable and gets stronger when pressure is applied, Palomar is designed to alleviate the stress of domestic violence survivors and provide immediate help and resources.

Palomar’s first and temporary location is 1140 N Hudson Ave., in the old Northcare building. The center has a two-year lease on the property while the search continues for a permanent site.

Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty, center, claps during a grand opening for Palomar, Oklahoma City's Family Justice Center, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Five agencies are already operating out of the building, and a total of 14 agencies have already committed resources. They are: the Oklahoma City Police Department, Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office, Department of Human Services Child Protective Services, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, YWCA battered women’s shelter, Infant Crisis Center, Northcare counseling, Oklahoma City-County Health Department, Parent Promise, Dragonfly House, Indian Health Clinic, Rainbow Fleet, Oklahoma City Artists for Justice and University of Oklahoma School of Social Work.

Their clients will be women, children and men affected by domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. In the long term, Palomar plans to raise the funds needed to build a larger facility and expand its services.

“We haven’t even opened our doors, and people were literally coming in. Tomorrow is literally the launch to the public, but we’ve already had 50 people come in unsolicited and unadvertised,” Palomar Executive Director Kim Garrett said.

“Our next step is to continue to bring in more partners, more resources, and at the same time, look for a place where we can land a permanent location somewhere central downtown,” Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty said.

Alliance for HOPE International President Casey Gwinn stands outside during a grand opening for Palomar, Oklahoma City's Family Justice Center, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Casey Gwinn, president of Alliance for Hope International, began helping the city prepare in 2015, with a public forum in September and a planning session in December of that year. Gwinn created the San Diego pilot program, and 137 similar centers have already opened in the United States, with sites in 13 additional countries.

“I told the mayor and council this morning, this center is the biggest, largest first-phase family justice center I’ve seen in a decade anywhere in the United States,” Gwinn said.

“They’ve moved so fast, and it’s amazing how the leadership has come together, from the police chief to the city manager to the mayor and council, to all the community agencies,” he said.

“They’ve evidenced an enormous amount of collaboration in getting to this point. Now they have to make it work though. Moving in together is easy. Living together is more complicated. Now they have to make it work for survivors and their kids, but I believe they’re going to do that. The amount of energy here today is unbelievable,” Gwinn said.

Evelynn Farris, 4, plays in a room for children inside Palomar, Oklahoma City's Family Justice Center during a grand opening for the new facility, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Last summer brought the first session of Camp Hope, a weeklong summer camp for metro-area children from homes fractured by domestic abuse. This summer, campers will come from Tulsa and other places in the state.

A community painting day was held in September, which put volunteers together under the roof of the new building, including former Gov. Frank Keating and his wife, Cathy.

“I feel like it’s one of the best days of my career. I’ve worked with so many hurting people and I’ve done death notifications for parents who are murdered by domestic violence. I’ve worked in terrible cases, and it always feels like you’re treading water, and this feels like hope,” Garrett said.