Pelham Bay is getting into the “Safe Haven” spirit.
Forty-five neighborhood businesses now double as spaces where children can duck in if they are feeling unsafe, followed or worried about being bullied.
Stores lining Crosby Avenue and Westchester Square received Safe Haven decals this week from the Pelham Bay Merchants Association.
Participating shop owners are expected to follow a simple set of rules: allow a child inside a store until the danger passes and they feel comfortable.
Either storeowners or the children can call the police, or ring a guardian to pick them up—but in no circumstance should the storeowner leave the store to intervene, or take any photos of potential assailants.
Pelham Bay’s program was inspired by nearby Morris Park, Pelham Parkway and Allerton, whose merchants adopted the “Safe Haven” program in 2012, months after an 8-year-old boy in Brooklyn was abducted off the street and murdered.
“This is a program that works,” said Joe Thompson, president of the 49th Precinct Community Council, which helped organize the original program. Thompson, who has lived in the area for nearly 50 years, worked for the NYPD for decades before starting a neighborhood patrol. He remembers a time when nearly all of the east Bronx’s shops opened their doors to children.
But in recent years he’d seen the relationship between local shops and children sour. Some shops, worried about petty crime, closed for an hour when schools got out for the day, he said.
“A lot of kids are apprehensive today that they’ll be thrown out of a store,” he said. “These signs ensure that they can go in and be protected.”
Bullying and abductions remain a citywide danger.
As of press time, the NYPD was still searching for the culprit who attempted to kidnap an 11-year-old girl on Wednesday Jan. 22 on Castle Hill Avenue near Lafayette Place and throw her into his blue Astro Van.
“We wanted to be able to do what we could before something happened,” said Irene Guanill, Pelham Bay Merchant Association’s president.
Pelham Bay’s program relies on a slew of community organizations working together. Representatives from local Community Board 10 alerted area school personnel and parents of the new program. The 45th Precinct Community Council ran background checks on the shop owners behind the businesses.
The idea is that children walking through the nabe’s hub and in danger will see the Safe Haven sign in the window and have no second thoughts about taking shelter in local shops.
“It’s not complicated, “ said Patrick Caruso of CB 10. “This is just one more way to make our kids feel safe.”