Story by: Megan Diskin
A future domestic violence shelter at the Ventura County Family Justice Center has been converted into a residential space for health care workers who need to isolate after treating coronavirus patients.
The plan was for the 1,570-square-foot building in the center’s Ventura parking lot to one day become an emergency shelter for victims of family violence. The funds weren’t there for the shelter when the main facility opened in November, said center director Mike Jump.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic made it clear how essential health care workers are, Jump offered up the unfinished space to protect them and their families from the virus. In less than a week, volunteers and businesses from across the county donated their time and money to outfit six rooms with beds, microwaves, mini refrigerators and Keurig machines.
“It makes you warm inside when people come together like that,” said Jump, a chief deputy district attorney in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.
To make the space feel more personal for the new guests, the children of board members on the Ventura County Family Justice Center Foundation left handwritten thank-you notes in each room. They also cut out red and pink pieces of paper in the shape of hearts and drew pictures of flowers and rainbows.
The foundation is the nonprofit raising money for the center, a single space where victims of child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse and human trafficking can get free access to legal, medical and financial assistance.
A prime location
The site of the future shelter is located just across from Ventura County Medical Center. That also made it a prime location for the family justice center and future domestic violence shelter.
In the meantime, however, the six-bedroom space gives medical professionals a little peace of mind. They also have two bathrooms, one of which has a shower. The space is an old medical office so the lobby now acts as somewhat of a living room.
Organizations across the county have been searching for places to house health care workers. Thankfully, the curve in Ventura County flattened a bit to give these agencies time to figure it out, said Amy Towner, CEO of Health Care Foundation for Ventura County.
At little cost to medical professionals, spaces have been made available in RVs and an old wing of Ventura County Medical Center, Towner said.
“No sooner did that get done, and we got a call from Mike Jump. And he said, ‘Hey, we got space across the street, but it needs to be cleaned up,'” Towner said.
Heidi Whitcomb, owner of Ventura Rental Party & Events, was called in to help furnish the place. She took measurements of each room and the living space then reached out to her vendors to see what kind of furniture she could get, Whitcomb said. She picked it up in Los Angeles a few days later, she said.
Out of her own pocket, she purchased the bedding and mini refrigerators for each room, Whitcomb said.
She took the same initiative to get the old wing of Ventura County Medical Center ready for health care workers to live in, Towner said.
Before all of that, about a half-dozen men in the Ventura chapter of Laborers’ International Union of North America had to clear out the junk. Anthony Mireles, business manager for Laborers Local 585, said maintenance staff had left equipment and tool kits, some of which was pretty heavy, inside the building, Mireles said.
Jump couldn’t do it by himself so he called Mireles and his team. They had done the construction work on the main facility of the family justice center, said Mireles, who also serves on the foundation’s board.
Mireles’ goal with the union is to create partnerships among community organizations and labor services, he said. There are many union members who are passionate about volunteering their time to give back, Mireles said.
A team of painters came in once all the stuff was moved to storage, Jump said.
Towner, the CEO of the nonprofit aiding the two county hospitals, said the six-bedroom housing unit could serve a variety of functions. It is available to give staff with immune-compromised family members a place to go, Towner said.
It can also protect a certain type of doctor or specialist that also needs to remain close to the hospital, Towner said. The staff in the converted space will change based on the need, she said.
Protecting the community
It’s not just the location that makes the space a good fit, Towner said. The family justice center looks out for the safety and well being of vulnerable people. Using the building for health care workers does the same thing, Towner said.
“This is an effort to protect our community now, but it’s also going to be an asset in the future for the family justice center,” Towner said.
The effort speeds up the timeline for the space to open as a domestic violence shelter overseen by The Coalition For Family Harmony. Caroline Prijatel-Sutton, the coalition’s executive director, said the organization was “over the moon” about how the space turned out.
The coalition is a partner with the family justice center and they’ll be working in the summer to figure out how to fund the shelter. It could cost anywhere from $350,000 to $400,000 a year to keep it open, Prijatel-Sutton said. That number is based on the estimates from the other domestic violence shelter in the county run by the coalition, she said.
Mireles said he and his team will also be back in the future to install security fencing and fix up the parking lot.
Megan Diskin is a courts and breaking news reporter with The Star. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-437-0258.