Safe Havens abound in Tenderloin
originally published in Street Sheet, Feb. 1 - 15, 2010
People who escape dangerous situations by walking into a Safe Haven in the Tenderloin or South of Market have neighborhood residents to thank for it.
Safe Havens include 52 businesses, nonprofits and residential hotels, spanning from O'Farrell Street to Sixth and Howard streets. Each site is identified by a neon-green sign depicting a a pair of hands sheltering figures of a man, woman, child and a wheelchair-bound person.
The Safe Havens are also places where the endangered may stay up to 15 minutes and make a phone call, if necessary, until the emergency subsides.
"People don't realize that in the Tenderloin, people take care of themselves and stick up for themselves," said James Tracy, an organizer at Community Housing Partnership. His organization collaborated with the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) and The New Tenderloin (TNT) in creating the Safe Havens campaign.
Dina Hilliard, associate district manager of the North of Market/Tenderlon Community Benefits District, one of the participating organizations, also applauds the grassroots effort behind the Safe Havens.
"I think one of the most significant things is that it's a community-driven solution," Hilliard said. She added that membership is free and the program doesn't rely on city funding.
Safe Havens originated in August 2007 when SRO residents suggested a neighborhood watch at a community meeting. Tracy said they were concerned about safety, but had reservations about police involvement.
"(Tenants) were wary about calling the cops, they didn't think calling them was the answer," Tracy said. "We engage people about class and racial profiling. We don't want people to be denied because of race, class or anything else."
The sponsoring organizations also perform monthly outreaches and periodic de-escalation workshops. Safe Havens reject profiling and scapegoating because of a person's past behavior detrimental to the community. The collective recognizes that no one group is responsible for causing the neighborhood's problems -- and it's not up to them to solve them alone.
Shopkeepers were definitely receptive to the idea, Hilliard said. Organizing among them was a mere formality. "It was something clerks were already doing, then we put a name to it," she said.
Hilliard remembered a situation in October where she saw a young woman about 17 years old, seeking refuge in Big Boy Market, a corner store on Golden Gate Avenue where Hilliard was shopping for snacks.
"Can you guys help me out?" the woman said. "My boyfriend is hitting me." Hilliard watched as the clerk stood in the doorway, while another employee spirited the woman into the inventory closet. The boyfriend arrived and saw no sign of the woman, who left a couple of minutes later.
"(The storekeepers) did a good job of defusing the situation," Hilliard said.
Fore more information, log on to sfsafehaven.org. To join the campaign, call (415) 554-3522 ext. 356. A map and listing of Safe haven sites can be found on http://sfsafehaven.org.