Following a spate of domestic violence-related homicides in Birmingham, the One Place Metropolitan Family Justice Center has expanded its operations from one day a week to four to give survivors of domestic violence greater access to legal services and resources. One Place, a cooperative project between the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, the Birmingham Police Department, the YWCA of Central Alabama and the Crisis Center, Inc., brings together representatives of all four organizations under one roof.
“We have great resources [for victims] in this community,” said Allison Dearing, executive director of One Place. “The question is, how can we make it even easier or less cumbersome to get access to these resources?”
The purpose of One Place, which started operating in late 2014, is to make pre-existing resources more readily accessible to victims of domestic violence. Those who come to the District Attorney’s office from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday through Thursday can meet with victim advocates from the YWCA, speak with counselors from the Crisis Center’s Rape Response Program and discuss legal options with members of the Birmingham police force and the D.A.’s office.
For a victim of domestic violence, figuring out legal options can be daunting, Dearing said, so having officials from the police and the D.A.’s office on hand can be a great help to those who use the center’s services.
Though the expansion has been planned for some time, recent events have demonstrated the continued need for such services. Since the beginning of the year, there have been 12 domestic violence-related homicides in Jefferson, including the murder of Coral Wilson just last week. In 2015, there were 24 homicides related to domestic violence in the entire state, yet there has already been half that number in Jefferson County alone in the first five months of 2016, Dearing noted.
While there is no easy explanation for this sudden spike in lethal domestic violence, it seems to be part of a general increase in homicides over the last two years, Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls said.
Currently, One Place operates out of Falls’ office, but the agency plans to move into a building on the Southside that will become the center’s permanent home later this summer. The United Way of Birmingham donated the building, while the Junior League provided additional funding for its renovation. One Place is currently looking for a construction firm to refurbish the building.
When the move is complete, One Place plans to increase its operations to five days a week. On May 12, One Place received clearance to proceed with the move from the zoning board. Mayor William Bell and several members of the Birmingham police department attended the meeting to advocate for One Place.
Falls also attended the meeting to speak on behalf of One Place. Dearing credits Falls for taking a very active role in supporting victims of domestic violence and helping to establish One Place in Birmingham.According to Dearing, Falls has been a driving force behind the expansion of One Place; when the cooperative first started in Birmingham, it only operated once a month until Falls suggested holding sessions once a week. Falls also pushed for the center to operate four days a week, she said.
“This project would not have gotten off the ground without the District Attorney’s office, and Brandon Falls in particular,” said Dearing.
Both the District Attorney’s office and the city police have been very supportive of domestic violence victims over the last decade, said Annetta Nunn, community outreach coordinator of the YWCA. Nunn, who used to be Birmingham’s police chief, said the BPD hopes to bring law enforcement agencies from other municipalities into One Place sessions in the future.
Currently, if a victim from another municipality comes into Birmingham’s Family Justice Center, the Birmingham police can take their report and forward it to the relevant authorities. But there are 23 separate police jurisdictions in Jefferson County, so having representatives of other local law enforcement agencies present would speed up the process.
Getting victims access to resources quickly and easily is the whole point of One Place. The recent spate of murders highlights the need to provide relief for those suffering from domestic abuse in time. Falls explains, “Every victim that we can assist is another chance to miss an ultimate homicide or a more violent action.”
One Place operates Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 801 Richard Arrington, Jr. Blvd. North. The Center can be reached at 205-322-4878 or 205-323-7273. They are seeking a construction firm to assist them in refurbishing their new building; if interested, please contact Allison Dearing at email@example.com.