Just ahead of the wrecking ball, the Gwinnett Sexual Assault Center in Duluth has found a new home.
And money to help pay the rent.
With a July 1 eviction notice staring it in the face, GSAC said Thursday that it has agreed to terms on a two-year lease on a building in Duluth that will allow it to go on providing comprehensive services to victims of rape and sexual assault, the only such facility in Georgia’s second largest county.
Also on Thursday, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter handed GSAC executive director Ann Burdges a check for $48,000 to cover the first year’s rent at the new location. Burdges called the donation a “game changer” for the nonprofit that last year provided services to 1,753 people — including 254 adults and children who received forensic-medical evidentiary rape and sexual assault exams.
“I almost burst into tears when he told me,” Burdges said.
For more than two decades, the Gwinnett center has essentially operated as an unofficial wing of the health and judicial system for rape investigations in the county. Porter described GSAC as essential to his office’s work.
“They’re vital to our prosecution efforts,” he said in an interview. “The coordinated approach, the single location, the expertise of the witnesses [who see victims there]. I have to have that to successfully prosecute cases.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last Sunday told the story of GSAC’s scramble to find a new location after nearly a quarter century in the same little house owned by the city of Duluth.
Since 1989, the city has charged GSAC $1 a year rent on the brick ranch house tucked between Buford Highway and downtown Duluth.
But last September, Duluth officials informed GSAC that it planned to knock the house down because of serious maintenance issues including termite damage and mold.
The nonprofit — which had twice raised money to expand the building to include medical exam rooms and cozily furnished spaces where trained nurses and police could interview victims — would have to vacate its longtime home by July 1.
Even as they struggled to find a place that could accommodate examination rooms, evidence storage facilities and more, the question of how to come up with thousands of dollars in monthly rent for the first time had weighed extra heavily on GSAC.
“I’ve been following the story all along,” said Porter, whose association with GSAC goes back to its earliest days when founder Ann Smiley recruited him to do training on legal issues. “I read the article in Sunday’s paper and knew the deadline was approaching. I did a little research and [confirmed] I could use federal forfeiture money to pay rent.”
Unlike his D.A. counterparts in some other metro Atlanta counties, Porter does not accept any state civil forfeiture money to avoid conflicts of interest that could arise from using funds connected to drug dealing or other crimes.
On Sunday, the AJC reported that DAs in metro counties vary widely in how they spend money seized from criminal suspects. In Fulton County, the newspaper found that District Attorney Paul Howard has used thousands of dollars in state forfeiture money to buy some items with little obvious connection to prosecuting criminals.
Porter described the grant to GSAC as an “ongoing expense, a law enforcement realty expense” and a legitimate use of civil forfeiture money.
“This is what these funds are for,” Porter said. “You keep these vital operations going.”
In 2012, the DeKalb County District Attorney donated $20,000 from the office’s state forfeiture fund to DeKelb’s rape crisis center.
GSAC already had generous commitments of donated materials and labor to renovate a new location. Now, it can stop looking over its shoulder and focus on the future, Burdges said. Its board plans on launching a capital fundraising campaign with an eventual goal of purchasing its own building, she said.