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Safe Havens and Passages Come to Hyde Park

An increase in the number of burglaries and robberies has sparked businesses, residents and the police to come together and take action in Hyde Park.

“We needed the businesses to get involved because they see everything,” said 21st District police officer Denise Gathings, who is in charge of her district’s Safe Haven and Safe Passage program. “They see the people walking in the community on a regular basis … and the kids going to school.”

The Safe Haven and Safe Passage program designates certain homes and businesses as places where people can go if they need help; “safe havens” are businesses and “safe passages” are homes. Participants place a sign in their window to alert people that they are members.

The program has been in the city of Chicago for years, but the 21st District recently decided to activate the program in Hyde Park.

“A Safe Haven’s primary responsibility is to act as a protected environment for a person in distress,” according to the program’s manual. This includes children on their way to school, the elderly and commuters going to work. If someone feels they are in danger, they can run into the store or business as a “safe haven” and someone will call the police. The program’s guidelines require businesses to let citizens into their facility if they need help.

However, homeowners shouldn’t allow people off the street into their homes, even if they appear to be in distress, according to the program’s rules. If a person is in trouble and arrives at a “safe passage,” the homeowner should ask the person to wait while he or she calls the police, Gathings said. This is the program’s way of keeping owners safe.

One restaurant and “safe haven” in Hyde Park goes above and beyond when it comes to lending a hand in the community.

“Plenty of kids will come in the restaurant to wait for their parents to pick them up,” said Kristen Esterly, general manager of Medici on 57th, a restaurant and bakery located near Ray Elementary School at 1327 E. 57th St. “Their parents will be running late and the school will be closed … to make the kids feel safer, we allow them to wait here.”

In the late evening, there can be some “unsavory characters” in the area, Esterly said; by letting kids sit in the restaurant, community members know they will be safe.

“My kids attend that school,” Esterly added. “And I feel we’re just doing our part.”

Esterly said their restaurant has had some issues with crime, namely complaints of pick-pocketers.

“For the most part, though, I feel good about the neighborhood,” she said. “I feel good about this program and I don’t think people should really have a reason to feel unsafe.”

Hyde Park doesn’t have a lot of crime because community members do come together to prevent it as much as possible, Gathings said. But this false sense of security can put residents at risk, she said, especially for theft.

“People here for some reason like to leave things in their vehicles,” Gathings said. “Especially cell phones and computers … a thief will either rob them or tell one of their friends to hit up the area.”

Most of the people carrying out the robberies aren’t from the community, Gathings added, allowing them to commit the crime and then leave.

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