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Help for those who need it

At the Family Justice Center in downtown Brooklyn just before Christmas, District Attorney Charles Hynes, Assemblymember Joan Millman, Assemblymember James Brennan, attorneys and members of the District Attorney’s office gathered to celebrate the donation of food products and canned goods for victims of domestic abuse to use during the holidays. “It’s a holiday time, but the victims of domestic violence and their families need emergency relief,” said Brennan. “It’s an incredible thing and a pleasure to be of service to collect relief donations for families.” The elected officials worked with the mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence along with the Open House Nursery School, Kings County Family Court, the Mayor’s Volunteer Center, Estee Lauder, and the New York Cares coat drive to open their offices and collect food donations for the food drive. “The New York City Family Justice Center is a private/ public initiative and during this holiday season we have been fortunate enough to receive many generous donations from various organizations. These donations provide much needed support to domestic violence victims and their children seeking safety,” Commissioner Yolanda B. Jimenez said. The Family Justice Center, located on the 15th floor of 350 Jay Street, has worked with 8000 victims, 2000 of them children, since its establishment in 2005. After Hynes was elected in 1990, his office started the Domestic Violence bureau as a stand-alone department. Much of the impetus for establishing the office came from Hynes’ experiences with domestic abuse as a child growing up in Flatbush. “We lived on the sixth floor and there was a doctor on the first floor. When my mother had broken bones, I walked her down to the doctor for treatment,” Hynes said. “Any contact we had with the cops, they took my father around for a stroll, maybe had a drink in the par, and he would come back even angrier. That was called a ‘walk-around.’” Since that time, the borough office has received grants, particularly a $1.2 million federal grant from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women that went out to fifteen domestic violence programs throughout the country out of over 150 that applied. In 1996, Brooklyn opened the city’s first felony domestic violence court, which was also the site of the nation’s first Family Justice Center, which the federal grant funded. “The goal of the program is to stop the violence and introduce the batterer to deal with the root cause of the battering,” Hynes said. “We put them in alcohol programs, drug programs, or anger management programs to help their recovery. One of our goals is to try to reunite the family. We have reunited 25 percent of the population. If not, then he or she goes to jail. We have increased the number of domestic violence arrests because people became more aware of what we have and that help is available.” In 2005, the offices were renovated to include a children’s room, called St. Margaret’s Place, paid for by the Joe Torre Foundation. The Mayor’s Office also became increasingly involved, opening a domestic violence office in 2002 and working with the District Attorney’s office to open the Family Justice Center three years later. “We hired specially trained domestic violence social workers and partnered with Safe Horizons,” said Wanda Lucibello, Chief of the Special Victims Division in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. “We reached out to several community-based organizations and that led to a co-location of services. That’s the Family Justice Center.” The food pantry serves families during the holidays, who have been dislocated from their homes and do not have access to money to buy food or are put into a shelter. In the initial weeks of dislocation, the Family Justice Center tries to provide food, cell phones, and other essential items while their legal issues are getting resolved. Besides the food drive, the District Attorney’s Office has expanded its influence in domestic abuse issues by getting involved in other sectors of society besides criminal justice. “We never take public safety for granted. Never. We are always thinking of the next step so Brooklyn stays safe, becomes safer, and is the place where people want to live and open businesses,” said Anne Swern, first Assistant District Attorney. “We want justice to be able to have its tentacles in all areas without necessarily making arrests. The places and people within communities that matter to communities matter to us.”

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