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Safe haven: One stop Mecklenburg location for abuse victims
Umbrella Center to open in Charlotte
Published Wednesday, April 14, 2021 8:00 pm
by Hadiya Presswood

The Umbrella Center initiative launched by public and private collaborators, will provide services for Mecklenburg County abuse survivors.

Safe Alliance, Pat’s Place and Jamie Kimble Foundation, in partnership with several organizations in Charlotte, are preparing to construct a Family Justice Center that will serve Mecklenburg County.

A Family Justice Center model is a central location where organizations that help survivors of abuse, including domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and human trafficking, are housed. Charlotte’s Family Justice Center, The Umbrella Center, will host partner organizations so that survivors travel to one place to receive the support and resources they need.

“We sat down with many survivors and provided names to find out what would be a safe place in name, that they would feel comfortable and welcome to come to. The Umbrella Center speaks volumes. It's an umbrella of services that you can receive under one roof. That's the beauty of it,” says Sherrill Carrington, executive director of Jamie Kimble Foundation.

The Umbrella Center is a survivor-led and trauma-informed model that is centered on the survivor’s experience and their individual situation and need.

“When we say victim center [we mean] providing those resources and meeting victims’ needs as to where they're at, at that time, to help them to become successful, where you can live a productive life without the harm and the fear of your offender,” Carrington said. “Now we all know that different situations are different for any individual. But we meet that individual where they're at, based on whatever trauma they're going through at the time.”

One of the survivors leading The Umbrella Center initiative is Rashida Gittens, a cybersecurity risk and governance analyst. The Umbrella Center is still underway, but the Survivor Resource Center is operational for survivors of domestic abuse.

“There was a need to begin to do the work now and space was available to where we could start to create,” says Gittens.

The Survivor Resource Center opened in February to immediately address a growing need; since the onset of the pandemic, there has been an increase in the number of domestic violence reports. According to a Mecklenburg County report, was 8,845 police incident reports were filed with a domestic violence relationship in 2017. Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office served 3,447 domestic violence protective orders that year.

The Survivor Resource Center is accessible by referral only.

“The goal is for a building to be erected and ready to open in 2023, and the Survivor Resource Center allows us not only to connect with victims that are referred, but also will allow us to develop our practices and create systems that will help us incorporate what’s needed into” The Umbrella Center, Carrington said. “So those doors will close and [The Umbrella Center] will be the building.”

Currently, Mecklenburg County has single resources centers that address specific types of trauma and no platform that combines the necessary progression of sources. A visit to the police station may necessitate a referral to the magistrate and then the survivor may need to travel elsewhere after that.

“In our county, that’s multiple steps. Imagine having to make your way all the way to [Interstate] 485 to get from one place to the next, let’s say we start at Huntersville and we go all the way back to Ballantyne and Pineville. It’s a journey, isn’t it? Imagine if you don’t have the resources to do that,” Gittens said.

Finding help can be compounded by not knowing where resources are located, questions to ask or factors like transportation, children or a job.

“For me, I went back to the house, because there were too many stops to take,” Gittens said. “It was getting late. I was going to lose my job if I kept searching all over Charlotte and he was going to catch on to me … So how do I stay employed, go to all these resources that they’re saying I need to go through and do this between the hours of eight and four, because he’s watching me?”

The Umbrella Center, when operational, is a walk-in, 24-hour facility with the same procedures for survivors as the Survivor Resource Center.

When survivors come in, they speak with a navigator whose duty it is to listen to their story and assess their need. The navigator will then provide all of the applicable literature and information for the individual to make an informed decision about what they should do.

Next, the navigator will obtain additional resources, coordinate service representatives so the individual has the option to speak to service providers at once and provide information for referrals and consultations.

Resources on hand include forensic testing, physical and mental health services, clothing and overnight lodging. It is intended to have visiting partner agencies that provide childcare, Spanish translation, higher education and job skills training, financial assistance and legal support.

“Providing all of these resources is vital to a person making an autonomous decision for themselves and their family,” Gittens said.

Carrington adds: “This is a safe environment and community.”

The Umbrella Center steering committee has representatives from organizations that provide these services, such as Mecklenburg County, city of Charlotte, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, municipal officers, Novant Health and Atrium Health.

“A person must make multiple journeys in their path towards freedom or safety,” Gittens said. … “That day, in this center, can determine my life going forward.”

Plans for The Umbrella Center have been underway since 2017 when discussion first began to start a Family Justice Center in Charlotte. The first center to open in the United States was in San Diego in 2002. Since then, several cities have created Family Justice Centers, including Greensboro, which is home to the Guilford County Family Justice Center. The committee is in the process of raising funds.

Donations can be made through Safe Alliance, Pat’s Place and The Jamie Kimble Foundation and will go towards the building and comprehensive facility features with the goal to debut the center in 2023.


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