The Greene County Family Justice Center is located at 1418 E. Pythian St. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Summary

The Greene County Family Justice Center provides a one-stop place for victims of domestic violence to seek help, whether that’s through the legal system, counseling, sheltering or some combination of all available resources. Water infiltration in the 108-year-old building has Greene County government officials and their nonprofit partners searching for money.

The people who work at what was once the Tefft School have one mission: help people affected by the swell of domestic violence in Greene County.

The building on East Pythian Street that now houses the Greene County Family Justice Center shows signs of its age, adding to the already difficult cases for clients who come inside the walls. The building was constructed in 1914 and is 108 years old. It will take further cooperation from government and nonprofit organizations to make some essential repairs to the building.

Water seepage, mold and mildew have driven a building renovation project toward the top of the priority list for the staff. Any kind of construction project in 2022, however, presents a funding challenge.

The Family Justice Center provides an array of services for persons impacted by domestic violence. Its clientele are victims of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, elder or dependent adult abuse, human trafficking and other crimes that may involve a domestic partner. It has public agencies and private partner groups working to help people in the same building.

Why care?

In 2020, 3,926 individuals received domestic violence services in 26 counties in southwest Missouri, and 4,877 requests were unmet as agencies lacked resources, according to The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Nearly 42 percent of Missouri women and 35 percent of Missouri men experience intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

As staff grows, so does bid for renovation work

The Greene County Family Justice Center was established in October 2018. That year, the Family Justice Center had 11 staff members working from an open office on the second floor of the Greene County Courthouse on Boonville Avenue. Four years later, Family Justice Center Director Jamie Willis says the staff has tripled in size.

“We now have 35 staff members, so that increase in the number of clients that we’re able to serve was only because of that increase in staffing. Those staff are all provided by their home agencies, they were already working with domestic violence victims, but by putting them together, we are able to increase professional development,” Willis said.

By working in the same building, members from one agency can understand the other agencies, the work they do with victims of domestic and family violence, and how their agencies might work together to help certain clients.

“Back in 2019, when we were working on renovations of the center, we cut back on renovation quite a bit because we were borrowing against our future budget,” Willis said.

The center’s board of directors and staff wanted to avoid borrowing against future savings, but the issues with the building grew.

“At the time, we thought we could postpone that for a while until we were able to get some additional funding,” Willis said. “We’ve had considerable issues since then with crumbling plaster, peeling paint, moisture, mildew, mold, things that really affect the safety of staff, in my opinion.”

The Family Justice Center staff reached out to Paragon Architecture to obtain an estimated scope of work for repairs to the building, with the idea that the repairs could at least be partially funded through the American Rescue and Recovery Act funding allocated to Greene County.

In 2022, the costs of construction, materials and engineering work to repair and tuckpoint the exterior of the Tefft building proved to be much higher than Willis and the staff of the Family Justice Center anticipated.

“Our estimate in February of this year, based on just our estimate from Paragon for 50-percent restoration is $498,375, and 100 percent is $697,600,” Willis said. “So, those numbers are shocking, obviously.”

That’s a lot higher than the 2019 bids for mostly the same work, which came in between $68,000 and about $136,000.

The immediate plan is for Family Justice Center staff to meet with Greene County Administrator Chris Coulter to think through what can be done in the near future to preserve the building.

“We were shocked to see the huge increase,” Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson told the county commission in February 2022. “Is this way out of whack, or has that kind of work changed so much in a short period? What we’re doing to the building has not changed, really, except for perhaps doing some interior repair.”

About the Family Justice Center

In late 2019, the Greene County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office announced plans to move the Greene County Family Justice Center into what was once the Tefft School at the corner of Fremont and Pythian.

The services include crisis intervention, assistance in obtaining ex parte orders of protection, emergency shelter access, basic legal representation in divorce and custody cases where protection orders are involved, assistance in filing police reports, counseling, assistance with Missouri HealthNet (Medicaid) and aid programs, protective services for children and assistance with child support orders.

On-site partners at the Greene County Family Justice Center include Harmony House, the Victim Center, Legal Services of Southern Missouri, the Greene County Children’s Division, the Springfield Police Department, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, Burrell Behavioral Health, the Child Support Office of the Missouri Family Support Division and the Greene County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

The Tefft School was an elementary school from 1914 until 1991, when it was converted into an administrative building. In 2016, Springfield Public Schools moved the administrative offices out of the building. Three years later, Springfield Public Schools sold the Tefft building to Greene County for $10.

Next steps for the center

The building is in need of tuckpointing, which is the process of replacing the mortar between the bricks on a building’s exterior walls. It helps keep water from seeping in during heavy rain events and can prolong the life of historic buildings.

Willis said the Family Justice Center staff members and directors are also asking around to see what other communities that use the family justice center model of addressing domestic violence have done to address projects that fall outside a normal operating budget.

“Our collective group, the Greene County Family Justice Center and all of our partners are really looking into, ‘How are we going to start addressing some of those issues?’” Willis said.

Setting up a tuckpointing project starts with working with the Greene County Commission’s staff and the people who maintain buildings for the county government.

The Greene County Family Justice Center Board of Directors and the nonprofit group that works with it are looking into any federal or state funds available to fund the renovation work.

“This is such a unique partnership that benefits so many organizations in our community and the work that we all do together that we’re also looking into other ways that we can apply for grant funding collaboratively, because that is a lot to ask of the county to take on that entire cost that was not expected,” Willis said.

The location has a purpose

Having The Family Justice Center in a separate location — outside the courthouse — can be helpful for domestic abuse victims. At the courthouse, anyone who enters the building is greeted by more than one sheriff’s deputy who puts each person who enters the building through a security screening. The Family Justice Center has a law enforcement presence and security measures, but it is softer up front.

“A lot of our survivors felt a little uncomfortable upon arrival, and then a lot of victims of domestic violence are actively being tracked by their partners, so if they go to the courthouse, that is going to throw up some flags,” Willis said. “Our current location is a little bit more inconspicuous, and victims are able to come and go without putting up those red flags quite as much, so they can get their ducks in a row as they are attempting to leave a very dangerous situation.”


Willis said that leaving a home is one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship because abuse and violence can escalate, even to deadly levels if an abusive partner suspects that his/her victim is trying to escape.

Domestic violence in our region

What is domestic violence? The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines domestic violence as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats, and emotional abuse.”

  • The Missouri State Highway Patrol Uniform Crime Reporting system logged 1,617 instances of domestic violence in Greene County in 2021.
  • Persons committing crimes against their intimate partners made up most of these cases, including 357 aggravated assaults and 642 simple assault cases. There were two homicide cases in which an arrested person was suspected of murdering an intimate partner.
  • There were 430 cases of a person being suspected of assaulting a family member, and 150 of those cases were aggravated assaults.
  • In 2018, The Missouri State Highway Patrol counted that 45,548 incidents of domestic violence were reported to Missouri law enforcement, representing a 10.3-percent increase between 2014 and 2018. In 2019, domestic violence programs served 36,304 Missourians

Ways to take action

Find out how to donate to the Greene County Justice Center on its website.

The Family Justice Center also has volunteer opportunities and internships. More information is available upon request.


How to get help

Information provided by the Springfield Police Department

24-hour hotlines

Harmony House: 417-864-7233 or 800-831-6863

The Victim Center Crisis Response Line: 417-864-7233

Greene County Family Justice Center – (417) 799-1500 – houses several agencies throughout the community under one roof (Harmony House, The Victim Center, Legal Services of Southern Missouri, Greene County Children’s Division, Greene County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Springfield Police Department, Greene County Sheriff’s Office and Child Support Division) and acts as a sort of middle man between victims and community resources. All services are free and confidential.

Harmony House –  (417) 837-7700 – provides shelter, advocacy and education to survivors of domestic violence and promote the principle that all individuals have the right to a life free of abuse. Some services provided include support groups, life skills, parenting and relationship classes and legal advocacy. All services are free and confidential.

The Victim Center  – (417) 863-7273  – provides free-of-charge services to all victims of violent or sexual crimes. Provides prevention education, 24-hour crisis response line, counseling and victim advocacy.

If you have any questions please call Springfield Police Department Headquarters at (417) 864-1810.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger