“This will be a place for hope, healing and justice,” she said of the “One Safe Place” center her office plans to open in a warehouse adjacent to Ashley’s HomeStore at 1050 Los Vallecitos Road.
Stephan said a disproportionate number of domestic violence cases occur in North County, and the center will be a place where victims of child abuse, elder abuse, sexual assault and sex trafficking can find immediate help from a variety of agencies that will operate under the umbrella of the district attorney’s office.
Among 41 partners that have agreements to work with the center, about two dozen will be on-site, including Palomar Health Forensic Health Services, which will be relocated to San Marcos.
In the future, law enforcement officers who would bring sexual assault victims to Palomar Vista Healthcare Center in Escondido will bring them to the San Marcos center, where they will receive forensic exams but also may be immediately connected to a shelter or other appropriate services, she said.
Stephan said there is a pressing need for more services in North County because the only other center of its type is in downtown San Diego, which she said is too far for victims to get immediate help.
About 27 percent of the county’s domestic violence cases occur in the north region, she said.
In 2019, Stephan said, 46 percent of domestic violence homicides were in the north region, which has about a third of the county’s population. Data over 24 years found 42 percent of domestic violence murders happened in North County.
“That was an unacceptable figure,” she said. “It meant that we needed to provide to this region a way to interrupt that cycle of violence early through supportive services. Ways to not have to choose between staying in an (abusive) relationship and ending up homeless.”
North County residents also represent 42 percent of clients served by San Diego County Behavioral Health Services, which will be an on-site partner at the center.
Other data shows that 27 percent of cases about child abuse and neglect came from North County, representing 18,821 children, she said.
The San Marcos center will provide case management and advocacy for victims, individual and family therapy, a temporary restraining order clinic, housing navigation, child welfare services, job placement, clothing and food, a child waiting room, transportation, workforce readiness and educational opportunities.
“It will have a dress-for-success room, a salon for people to get ready for jobs, especially victims of human trafficking,” Stephan said.
The San Diego Family Justice Center was founded by former San Diego City Attorney Casey Gwinn in 2002. Gwinn now is head of the nonprofit Alliance for HOPE International, which helps open family justice centers internationally.
“For 20 years, it has become a national and international model of best practices,” Stephan said about the original site.
“One thing that’s missing is a coordinated service system for victims of crime,” she added.
Stephan said she began working on improving that system since becoming district attorney in 2018, and she saw a need for more services in North County.
A team from her office visited other family justice centers throughout the nation to gather ideas about what to include in the San Marcos center, copying and borrowing while also trying to improve on what they found.