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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Weekend shooting shows need for centralized services, Safe Futures says

    Safe Futures Chief Executive Officer Kathy Verano presents plans for a new family justice center to a room of Waterford residents. (Daniel Drainville/The Day)
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    Ken Edwards, Safe Futures director of safety and security, explains to residents plans for a new family justice center in Waterford. (Daniel Drainville/The Day)
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    Plans for a new family justice center in Waterford. (Daniel Drainville/The Day)
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    Waterford ― As Safe Futures Chief Executive Officer Katherine Verano on Tuesday prepared to meet the family of 30-year-old Deanna Brightman, a New London woman who was critically injured in a domestic violence shooting over the weekend, Verano was reminded of the urgency of completing a new family justice center in Waterford.

    Once built, the Center for Safe Futures at 994 Hartford Turnpike will provide victims and their families with legal, mental health and counseling services ― courtesy of numerous partnering agencies ― all in one building.

    Safe Futures expects the project to break ground this year, and be open by the end of 2025.

    Verano and other Safe Futures officials say it can’t happen soon enough, because it will help victims like the woman involved in this past weekend’s shooting.

    Also, every six months that goes by the project gets more expensive.

    “Absolutely this is going to help,” Verano said. “Awareness. (Having) law enforcement all working together instead of all these separate pockets.”

    Recent shooting was a domestic violence incident, police say

    Saturday’s shooting, which took place in an apartment at 159 Hawthorne Drive, was called a murder-suicide attempt by New London police. It left 31-year-old Jamal Brooks dead from a gunshot police said appeared to be self-inflicted. Meanwhile, Brightman, who was shot several times, was taken to Yale New Haven Hospital in critical condition.

    Deanna’s sister, Andrea Brightman, posted a gofundme page two days ago that as of Wednesday afternoon had raised over $3,500. Safe Futures is also taking donations for the family, which can be found on the nonprofit’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/safefuturesct/.

    On the that page, Andrea wrote that her sister has been through multiple surgeries, and that “things were looking up.”

    Verano said she met with the family on Tuesday.

    Brightman, whose sister said had been “trying to escape an abusive relationship for years,” was among the tens of thousands of people who experience domestic violence each year in southeastern Connecticut.

    According to Safe Futures, the nonprofit in 2023 alone served 10,000 victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and trafficking in southeastern Connecticut.

    Verano said in 2022 and 2023, five young women from southeastern Connecticut were killed as a result of domestic violence. They are: Jashira Pagan, 30, who was killed in Norwich in 2022; 17-year-old D’Nazia Uzzle, who was killed in New London last year; 23-year-old Shelby Dodson, a Navy wife whose husband was charged in July 2022 with killing her by hammer and knife; and 18-year-old Arisleidy Batista-Bido, who was shot and killed by her boyfriend before he set fire to the home they shared and fatally shot himself.

    Stephanie Beatty, a 22-year-old New London woman, was shot and killed by her boyfriend in Brockton, Mass, police said.

    In 2023, Safe Futures, in conjunction with police departments, conducted 773 Lethality Assessment Program Screens when police were called for incidents of intimate partner violence. The screens found 552 victims to be at “high risk of being murdered.”

    “The hard thing ― and (I’ve been) doing this for 30 years ― victims do not think their partner, whether together or not, will kill them. And we see that it happens time and time again,” Verano said.

    Safe Futures, with several community partners including police and nonprofits, provides advocacy, counseling, support, safety planning and other services to domestic violence victims across 21 regional towns and cities, and two tribal governments, from a 5,000-square-foot, three-story building on Jay Street in New London.

    But since the agencies are spread out, victims often have to make multiple stops, and recount traumatic events with police, prosecutors, counselors, victims’ advocates and others multiple times, to receive the help they need.

    Verano said that can cause the victims to “blame themselves, and they feel the shame, really, that the abusers should be feeling.”

    How the family justice center will help

    The new building in Waterford will allow victims to receive most of the services they need in a location central to the 21 towns served by Safe Futures.

    “It’s all of those things that will benefit families, and that wraparound service model, all in a much healthier setting and environment for children to be in,” Verano said.

    Court cases can last up to two years, during which time a victim has to go through multiple steps and may also be taking care of children.

    “A victim can come there to file a report. They can speak to a prosecutor if they have a case going on. They can speak to a DCF (Department of Children and Families) officer. They can speak to an attorney. So it just goes on and on,” Verano said.

    “And again, the impact on the children, when there’s children involved.”

    Anyone visiting the new facility for services will be able to use the child care services there, Verano said. Police found two children, ages 5 and 9, were in the apartment after Saturday’s shooting in New London. They were not injured, but were taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital for evaluation.

    The agency hopes the Center for Safe Futures will allow earlier intervention in domestic violence situations, something that can also help identify would-be abusers and involve them in counseling services, if needed.

    Financial urgency

    The project is funded by about $1.5 million the nonprofit raised through its 2022 capital campaign and another $5 million it received last June from the state Bond Commission. Other sources of funding include donated buildings in Willimantic and New London, loans, and some town funding.

    But that’s not quite enough, Safe Futures Vice President Gregory Massad and other nonprofit members say.

    At a community engagement forum last week, Massad said more fundraising still needs to be done for the $8 million-to-$10 million project, and the longer they wait for full funding, the more expensive it becomes.

    “Originally the price was around $8 million,” Verano said. “Now, each year the cost goes up.”

    Verano said the project will be put out to bid after the nonprofit secures some bank financing.

    “Safe Futures services are free and confidential,“ Verano said. ”That’s the biggest message, especially after this weekend.“

    To reach the Safe Futures support line, call (860) 701-6001. Visit safefuturesct.org for more information.

    d.drainville@theday.com

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