San Francisco locations offer safe haven for youths in crisis 

click to enlarge Stores and organizations bearing this symbol are official safe havens for youths fleeing bullying or violence. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Stores and organizations bearing this symbol are official safe havens for youths fleeing bullying or violence.

A young woman who was assaulted by a “violent criminal” on a gritty South of Market street last month knew she wasn’t alone, police said, and that might have saved her life.

After falling victim to domestic violence Feb. 21 outside Custom Burger at Seventh and Natoma streets, police said, the woman went to the West Bay Center a half-block away, which she knew has a yellow sign posted out front that states, “Safe Haven.”

A similar yellow sign also is posted in front of a neighborhood meat market, a grocery store and a deli. Police Chief Greg Suhr wants more youths to know that businesses carrying such signs will help any child being bullied or facing other harm.

After the young woman sought refuge at West Bay Center, a youth services provider, employees immediately shielded her and called police, who eventually arrested a suspect.

“Now there’s a lady that’s safe because of it, and a violent criminal is behind bars,” Suhr said.

The SoMa program geared at protecting children in rough neighborhoods is an offshoot of similar safe-haven programs that serve adults in other crime-heavy neighborhoods, such as the Bayview district.

It was difficult to persuade businesses operating amid the drug dealing of Sixth, Howard and Mission streets to participate in a safe-haven program for adults, according to Rudy Asercion, the West Bay Center’s executive director. Businesses can’t accept every person needing shelter after a drug deal goes badly, Asercion said.

Two years ago, when Asercion sought to protect children who were part of a SOMA after-school program, he asked businesses if they would join the program if the safe-haven guarantee applied only to children.

Currently, there are nine safe-haven sights for youths, including Manila Market at 898 Mission St., Tony Baloney Café & Deli at 1098 Howard St., Mi Tiera Grocery at 1000 Howard St. and Gar May Enterprise at 1118 Howard St.
The program is funded through a PG&E grant, Asercion said.

“Plans to include coverage for seniors and expand the safe-haven program in the Tenderloin and Chinatown are set to start in the summer,” Asercion added.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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