San Francisco auditorium uses sonic blast, nightly, to disperse homeless
Homeless people camp out a few blocks from the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco last year.
May 2nd, 2012
02:30 PM ET

San Francisco auditorium uses sonic blast, nightly, to disperse homeless

Encouraging the homeless to find a new haunt is nothing new, but managers at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium may be breaking ground by attempting to do it sonically.

Of course, Manuel Noriega is and David Koresh was familiar with the acoustic warfare tactic, which at least one now-vanquished homeless San Franciscan felt was a harsh reaction to his and his cohorts' squatting, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Between 20 and 40 homeless had been hanging out and sleeping at Civic Center Park, and according to the newspaper, it was a source of frustration for police, the mayor, the city Recreation and Parks Commission and the concert promotion outfit, Another Planet Entertainment, which operates the auditorium.

To combat this scourge, Another Planet began using the building's outside speakers to blare a cacophony of the world's most jarring noises - chainsaws, motorcycles, jackhammers, an aircraft carrier alarm - in hopes of shooing the homeless off of its stoop.

The clamor, which begins nightly at 11 and continues until 7 a.m., prompted building manager Robert Reiter to comment to the paper, "I thought it was the building alarm going off."

Another Planet Vice President Mary Conde and founder Gregg Perloff said people attending events at Davies Symphony Hall and the War Memorial Opera House, both about two blocks away, had issued "an enormous amounts of complaints" about the homeless people in the area.

Blasting them with various "industrial" sounds, which Another Planet acquired from iTunes, has been "tremendously effective" so far, Conde said.

San Francisco has one of the worst homeless problems in the nation, according to the Chronicle, which has an entire special section devoted to the issue on its website. According to the Coalition on Homelessness, about 37,000 households are on the waiting list for housing, 6,000 people in the city experience homelessness each night and 2,200 homeless children are enrolled in public schools.

The problem gets worse each year, despite the city's spending $200 million annually to combat it, according to the newspaper. In March 2011, police began enforcing what is known as a sit-lie ordinance, which fines repeat offenders who sit or lie on public sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. - the hours when jackhammer and chainsaw noises aren't emanating from the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium speakers.

Though some business owners say the sit-lie law has been a success, the ordinance was frowned upon by local homeless proponents prior to being approved by city voters. A national advocacy group in December cited the law in giving San Francisco low marks for its handling of the city's homeless.

It would appear that Another Planet's tactic for dispersing the homeless is being received similarly.

"What (expletive)  behavior," said Oscar McKinney, a homeless man who said he had 6,100 quality-of-life citations who was chased out of the area by the overnight noise coming from the auditorium, according to the Chronicle.

Sonic warfare has been used as a psychological tactic to run folks out of an area in the past. In the 1993 Waco, Texas, siege, the FBI reportedly "used bagpipes, screeching seagulls, dying rabbits, sirens, dentist drills, and Buddhist chants" in an effort to flush Koresh and the Branch Davidians out of their compound, according to author Steve Goodman.

The method was also employed in 1989 when U.S. troops surrounded the Vatican embassy in Panama City, Panama, where Noriega and some his men had taken refuge. The troops directed loudspeakers at the embassy and played Christmas music all day on December 25.

The following day, the U.S. Southern Command radio station began taking requests from soldiers and played a variety of appropriately titled songs for the next few days, including the Rolling Stones' "Rock and a Hard Place" and The Animals' "We Gotta Get Out of This Place."

It didn't work. Noriega remained in the embassy until January 3, five days after the music stopped.

(For the complete Noriega playlist, click on pages 4-6 of this document at George Washington University's National Security Archive.)

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Filed under: California • Civil Rights • Economy • Housing • Jobs • San Francisco • U.S.
soundoff (490 Responses)
  1. Dude

    The homeless are a diverse group. There are many homeless people who are one break away from re-joining society. A shower, a change of clothes and one good interview and they are back.

    There are are mentally ill people who need to be in a protective environment. A halfway house or hospitalization. Some can be helped back to productive lives, others will need some degree of sheltering for the long term.

    Others, and this is surprisingly common in the Bay area, are voluntarily homeless. When they passed a law that said you cannot have more than 3 dogs tied up in 5 feet of each other and people sitting on the sidewalk had to leave enough room for a pedestrian to walk by, there was a huge outcry for the homeless rights. One complainer who looked to be in his mid twenties had a large inverted pentagram tattooed on his face. Now tell me that was someone who wanted to be a productive person. Tell me he wanted to make his own way.

    Sadly, there are parasites out there too. I say, give the homeless a mental health screening. If they need help, give them help. If they are mentally capable, then give them an opportunity. If they turn down an opportunity, tough.

    I've known people who offered people holding "Will work for food" signs honest work. They always turned it down. Why? They can make $20+ an hour at the off ramp of a freeway.

    And here is a quick tip for the last guy who wanted me to help him at my neighborhood convenience store. The whole "I am a hard working family man who hit some bad luck" and saying Jesus five times in every sentence routine kinda loses a little of its punch when your breath has enough whiskey on it to light on fire.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. UseGlueTraps

    I have an upscale life to live! How can I live it with all these homeless rats? Use glue traps.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Mental

    II was in SF recently, the cab driver told me a mental hospital ran out of beds and has to regularly discharge homeless patients with mental illness. A physician in the family who sees underinsured said that a lot of homeless have undiagnosed (or even caused by homelessness) mental illness. Every human has some physical or mental capability, whether mentally ill, under hard times, or taking advantage of the begging system of suckers. The government can give them a shelter based on the requirement (not that they are set free all day to return at night) that they must contribute using their faculties to produce something of value in return for the services provided. Just like prison labor, except it shouldn't be pay, but funding the services and untouchable savings that are only awarded upon re-entry into society.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. BrendaEM

    I am so close to being homeless. I am on Social Security but I am way under the poverty line. There is no HUD available. In California they cut the little add-in that made my living possible, and now I exist. They cut my dental benefit. When they cut my benefit, I couldn't make my credit card payments, which I was paying down.

    Once you have a medical problem or become uninsurable, you are screwed in the United States. Though, when there is a draft it is the poor that get called first.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • KimItemMinistries

      For God has Not given to us a spirit of timidity, but of Love, and of power, and of a sound mind...

      For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

      “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
      that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”

      I am praying for you~That God will light your way, and mine~

      May 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Marwa

    this is disgusting and so disturbing... they're treating these humans worse than animals... next thing you know, we're going to start caging the homeless to "fix" the problem, so ridiculous

    May 3, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. UseGlueTraps

    Put the homeless to work cleaning themselves.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. BrendaEM

    I will live outside and homeless before I fail to pay the people I owe.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. UseGlueTraps

    Homeless people are homeless due soly to their own fault. Have no pity. Use glue traps and dispose of the bodies.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. UseGlueTraps

    Human glue traps. The new economy to clean up America.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. KimItemMinistries

    Do you receive the homeless? Do you offer joyfully to help and reach out and offer shelter to the homeless?
    Jesus said; "that unlike foxes who have their holes, or bird who have their nests, he and his followers [disciples] have no place [Homeless] to lay their head [tired, weary]."
    And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
    And he made haste, and came down, and received him [Jesus] joyfully.

    "Or"...Do You instead just walk away from the homeless [Jesus] sorrowful and go away from the Homeless [Jesus]
    as far away as you can and Just look the other way???...
    The Rich and the Kingdom of God...
    Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life ?”
    “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
    “Which ones?” he inquired.
    Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.”
    “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
    Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
    When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

    Lord in Your Mercy, Give us Your heart, Your convictions. Help Us All to reach out to help others, especially the poor and the needy [Homeless]. Help Us All to Be a joyful Blessing to Your children, Your people in need.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    A large percentage of the homeless are Veterans who have served and protected this country only to be treated like todays thrown away garbage. There is nothing amusing about anyone being homeless.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Richard

    The homeless are just like pigeons. Except pigeons are just worthless, not a drag on society and insane as well.

    May 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Really?

    man inhumanity to man continues. You'd think to evolve we would begin to understand .... we have so far to go to be more than human.

    May 3, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Really?

    mans inhumanity to man continues. You'd think to evolve we would begin to understand .... we have so far to go to be more than human.

    May 3, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Bubblemonger

    And I had been wasting so much water using my fire hose to disperse homeless around my place; time to bust out the chainsaw! Thanks CNN!

    May 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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