Open house: Community, officials tour new K.I. Sawyer Blueprint for Safety Offices

Officials gather in the “soft space” during an open house Thursday at the new K.I. Sawyer Blueprint for Safety Offices. The offices, located at 328 Commando St. in K.I. Sawyer, seeks to provide survivors of domestic and/or sexual assault with access to resources, as it houses a work station for law enforcement, an office for a full-time advocate from the Women’s Center, along with the soft space, which can be used for interviews, support groups, and more. (Journal photos by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Community members and officials gathered at the K.I. Sawyer Blueprint for Safety Offices to tour the new facility during an open house from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday.

The facility, located at 328 Commando St. in K.I. Sawyer, seeks to provide a “one-stop” service for domestic violence survivors to connect with support and resources, as well as offer a law enforcement presence in the community, officials said.

“I think it (will) help people feel safer in coming forward and disclosing and moving on with their lives. And trying to transition back into healthy relationships and just moving on with everything,” said Michelle Fortunato, the sexual assault program coordinator at the Women’s Center. “So having law enforcement and advocacy, we can meet people where they’re at and early on.”

Attendees had a chance to explore the facility, which includes a law enforcement work station, an office staffed by a full-time domestic violence from The Women’s Center, as well as a “soft space” that is equipped with comfortable furniture and serves as a space victim/survivor focus groups, support groups and law enforcement interviews.

Open house attendees included local, state and federal officials, law enforcement, community members, social workers and many more. A representative of Congressman Jack Bergman even stopped by to present a certificate of special recognition in honor of the facility’s opening, organizers said.

“We’ve had a great turnout,” Marquette County Prosecutor Matt Wiese said.

The new facility is a collaborative effort among the prosecutor’s office, law enforcement agencies and the Women’s Center, as well as the property owner, Joshua One Seven Enterprises Inc., which partnered with the office to create a “secured space specifically for this purpose,” officials said.

“It’s nice that we have a true community effort here between the landlord, the Women’s Center and the prosecutor’s office and law enforcement,” Wiese said. “It’s nice that we’ve had people out. We really want to make sure that folks in the community know that we have a fully staffed advocate here.”

The offices were created due to a need to address domestic violence cases in the Sawyer area, as only 9 percent of the county’s population resides in the area, but around 23 percent of all charged domestic violence cases in Marquette County originated from there in 2017, officials said.

With the distance between Sawyer and Marquette, organizers said they needed to create a space at Sawyer for law enforcement, advocates and prosecutor’s office staff to meet with survivors, as arranging transportation between Sawyer and Marquette can sometimes be challenging.

“We know that transportation is a huge issue out this way,” said Alicia Young, program director for the Women’s Center. “And so being in a central location that folks can walk to is really important.”

Making these resources easily accessible for the Sawyer community was critical, Women’s Center officials said, as connecting survivors with law enforcement and advocates early on can help them process emotional and legal matters associated with domestic and/or sexual violence.

“The facts are that if an advocate gets to that domestic violence survivor/victim or sexual assault victim initially — whether that be at the hospital, which is what our sexual assault response team does, is we meet them at the hospital — the sooner we can get to that survivor, the sooner that they start to heal and the easier the criminal process then is,” Fortunato said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

The advocate’s office at the facility allows the full-time domestic violence advocate to hold regular business hours and meet with clients. The advocate offers counseling for domestic and sexual violence and can connect survivors with a number of resources — a small food pantry is even on-site at the facility, Fortunato said.

“(If they’re) needing to change housing or do anything like that, our advocate can help with all of that transition, housing, some legal, maybe they have a court appointment they need to go to, we can help with transportation that way,” she said. “So there’s a lot of different things that we can do.”

Furthermore, even for those who are not facing domestic or sexual violence, the Women’s Center advocate can help, she said.

“We can still help them, we can still point them in the right direction where they need to go,” Fortunato said.

The law enforcement work station at the facility, which is in a separate, secured space, provides an office for the Michigan State Police, the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office and the Forsyth Township Police Department to conduct interviews and write investigative reports, 24/7, 365 days a year, officials said.

“I think this will be a good resource,” Marquette County Undersheriff Dan Willey said. “I mean, if we take a domestic (violence case) out here, we can meet with a victim out here … it gives us a place to talk to a person rather than sitting in the back of their car or running all the way back to the sheriff’s office.”

The rental of the office space and the overarching project was made possible by a grant of around $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice that was awarded to address violence against women in rural areas, Wiese said.

The grant funds have also been used to partially fund the Women’s Center advocate position at the Sawyer office, along with the Women’s Center Blueprint advocate, the Marquette County Prosecutor’s Office Blueprint coordinator, as well as partial funding for “enhanced prosecution of domestic violence cases,” officials said.

The Women’s Center advocate holds regular business hours Monday through Friday at the K.I. Sawyer office can be reached at 906-346-2134, or 906-869-4549.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.