West Seattle neighbors create Safe Haven program

West Seattle business owners are banding together, to send a message that bias crimes and harassment aren't welcome in their neighborhood.

A group of West Seattle neighbors and business owners are banding together to send a message that hate crimes aren't welcome in their community.

It's an initiative that's modeled after the Seattle Police Department's Safe Place program that's designed to better protect members of the LGBT community.  

For the Safe Place program, police partnered with community members starting in 2015. Businesses post rainbow decals in storefront windows to indicate that location is a safe place for people who are targets of anti-LGBT crimes.

The new, citizen-led Safe Haven program focuses on protecting people of different race, religion, sexuality, and gender in the area of the West Seattle Junction. Participating businesses put a small decal showing a red umbrella in their storefront window.

"Ours is called Safe Haven, and the decals read 'For you, For Everyone.' So the owner of the shop will allow anyone to come in, catch their breath, maybe call 911 if needed," said Susan Oatis. "The red umbrella just symbolizes protection. Protection from the elements. Protection from hate."

She's a member of the Anti-Hate Alaska Junction group that started the Safe Haven program.  

"It's offering people a physical place that if they're being harassed or yelled at or treated badly, they can go in and get a respite from the attacker," she said.  

Oatis felt that because of its diversity, the West Seattle Junction was the perfect place to start such a program.

"Pretty much as soon as we looked at it and evaluated what the program was, it was a no-brainer for us," said Cliff Mark, who owns Next To Nature Pet Supply Shop. "It's just one of those things that you want to have an open door policy for anyone who's in need, as much as you possibly can.

Next To Nature is one of several businesses that already have the red umbrella decals posted in their windows. Merryweather Books, Capers, Jak's Grill, Curious KidStuff, Maharaja, and West Seattle Smoke Company are also taking part.

"Part of it is just a recognition that we're all part of this together, and we're either going to be part of the solution or part of the problem," said Mark.  "We either join together to make it so safety is a priority for every person on the street, or we're going to continue to have issues."

Bystander intervention training is another big part of the Safe Haven program.  

"We're talking about training people how to intervene safely and effectively," said Oatis. "The vision is that we will end public displays of hate crimes and harassment incidents in our neighborhood."

Forty people took part in the last bystander intervention training event in June.

The next bystander intervention training is set for Sunday, July 30 at 2 p.m. It will take place at the Admiral Congregational United Church of Christ, at 4320 SW Hill Street.

If you'd like to get involved in the Safe Haven program, email antihate3@gmail.com.

© 2017 KING-TV


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