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. jgalt

    This is not an "American" issue. I just left Vancouver and there are plenty of Canadians sleeping on the street and panhandling...apparently, according to my landlord, Vancouver is the most liberal city in North America for the homeless to take up residence in...and FREE methadone from any least according to him. I will be heading for Vancouver when the bottom falls out.

    May 3, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. bryce

    Seriously, the city spends 200 million dollars per year "combating the problem"?? And it keeps getting worse??!!?!
    That is insane.
    I'm 100% certain I could find a more humane solution with $200 million/year. You could build one heck of a homeless shelter for $200 Million.

    May 3, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      @Bryce it has an overhead for CEO's of $199 million thought.

      May 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      I meant "though".

      May 3, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ellen Claire Kowit

    No one in America should be homeless. We need more innovative solutions to housing all our citizens.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Let 'em eat soylent green

      OK Ellen, let them live in your house. Problem solved.

      But you just want to take money out of my pocket to reward bumns like Oscar McKinney for all of the lousy self-destructive bad choices they have made-and keep making-wih their lives.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:47 am | Report abuse |
    • coldtexan

      Take them in and give them your bed. Take the second job while you're at it...they may want pizza tonight.

      May 4, 2012 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
    • taurran

      Socialism sounds great in theory, doesn't it?

      May 4, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • RTFH

      You could have some come and live with you in your house.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Rednip

      In theory libertarianism sounds good, but without a real social safety net the middle class cycle into poverty way too quick, and the poor become desperate enough to kidnap/kill for some income.

      May 4, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • KimItemMinistries

      "A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own people."

      May 4, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Voyager

      I agree – It is rather Ironic that American wants to mow every country's backyard when the grass in her backyard is sky high – Please, charity begins at home.

      May 4, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • MikeD

      Hey, soylent, that money in your pocket won't be there without the whole social structure you live in. I spent six months straight in the desert with nothing but canvas for a shelter, so I know whereof I speak.

      May 4, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. sad sad story...

    What is even a sad sad story that could happen if hatred for the homeless and like is not stopped, like with this incident at the Civic auditorium...
    We see in the future something similar to Nazi Germany's concentration camps showing up all of a sudden here in America for the homeless, poor, and old, and others, all over again.
    I hope Not!

    May 3, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dan in Hong Kong

    hmmm 200 million dollars a year to combat 6000 homeless people. That's $33,000 per homeless person. Makes you think if you just loaned each of them the $33,000 at least you might get some of it back and also you wouldn't have those pesky 6,000 homeless people for the opera crowd to complain about....

    May 3, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Bill

      200 million is a LOT of money yearly. Give me that money and I'll FIX the problem.

      May 4, 2012 at 2:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Let 'em eat soylent green

      That money doesn't go to do anything about "the homeless."

      It goes to create more extremely well-paid jobs in the San Francisco city government and is ladled out to various "non-profit" corporations that feed on the public teat, providing very well-compensated jobs to the relatives of politicians.

      You are correct that San Francisco could save money by merely handing out wads of cash to these "homeless" bums. But that would eliminate the "homeless industry" and put thousands of politically-connected people out of their government-financed offices.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:52 am | Report abuse |
    • RTFH

      There would be $200M increase in alcohol and drugs sales.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • allenwoll

      Dan – Good suggestion except that there is no profit in such a move !

      May 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • VivaVentura

      Most homeless are where they are due to bad decisions that they have made and most are continuing to make them. Drugs, Alcohol and other addictions plague the homeless. Giving them money isn't going to help them. Education, food and temporary shelter so they can learn and have the chance to change is the best thing to provide. Unfortunately, most will continue to fall victim to their addictions and die homeless.

      May 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. timidlady

    That's sad. How does fining the homeless stop homelessness? Here, I'll take the money you don't have? Maybe they'll put them in jail. At least it's better than laying and pissing in the streets. That has to be one of the saddest things ever. What about the kids? Do they fine them too when tey are too tired to stand? People are so hard and heartless. What's wrong with everyone? From the homeless to the rich, this is enough. Why do you need to watch marching women and babies being passed by in Africa when you have atrocities like this to amuse you? Those poor babies. Got that? 2,200 defenseless children who could be robbed via parents for being tired. But hey, play your music......

    May 4, 2012 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  7. Bill

    "It is time to reclaim the golf courses from the wealthy, and turn them over to the homeless." –George Carlin

    May 4, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
    • KimItemMinistries

      Amen! Reclaim the land! (Golf courses)
      & I would like to add also; To Reclaim the wealth stolen from the people! (families, homeless)
      Where two or more are Gathered, speaking out, praying out, in His (Jesus) name, God is hearing us, Jesus is with us, By His Spirit...
      "To God be the Glory-Great things He has done & Will do I See!!"
      In Jesus name...Amen&Amen!!!

      May 4, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  8. Higaran

    Send all homeless to Detroit! We need the population increase!

    May 4, 2012 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
  9. Carol

    So now we refer to our fellow human beings who have no home as a "scourge". Too bad we can't put as much brain power, money and time behind housing the homeless as we do getting them to move to someone else's block.

    May 4, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  10. Maureen

    Many of the homeless in my town are alcoholics. The other day I gave one of them a sandwich and a soda at lunch time. I was surprised when he staggered the few steps to my car to get it and almost fell over. Makes me reluctant to give them money because they will only buy booze. Money will not empower them. I don't know what the answer is. I've watched a couple of them over time, and they are slowly killing themselves with alcohol and drugs. Sad to watch.

    May 4, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      @Maureen they probably need something else to live for besides the cardboard box they're in or maybe some family that actually care about them. If you had nothing and did nothing all the time you too might end up sipping some alcoholic cleaner and waiting for your demise. Lord knows no one else is trying really hard to help them with their problems, and why would they when if you live paycheck to paycheck trying to keep a roof over your own head?

      May 4, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Valkyrie

      Homelessness is itself part of a vicious circle. The longer you are homeless (or the more frequently one becomes homeless), the more misery you suffer. The more misery, the more you want relief (and you want relief from the misery as soon as possible!). Wiith your community largely ignoring your suffering, the cheapest and most redily available relief can be found in a bottle, or a street drug, or both. Let me ask the readers here: Honestly, if you were living a life of misery day after day, a hopeless situation with no end in sight, wouldn't you want to numb the pain also? Sadly, the cycle comes full circle when the self-medication serves to perpetuate the homelessness. For some, it is perpetuated to the point where it becomes a way of life – trapped in a vicious circle with no apparent way out.

      One or two good folks like you giving out a few bucks doesn't address the root of the problem, as you pointed out. What it takes is the entire community....or at least a sizeable portion of the community. Above all, it takes heart. In the case of many communities (such as San Francisco), sadly, it appears a sizeable portion of the community does not have heart.

      May 4, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. eville_!!

    SF, such a liberal and community minded place....
    I got a ticket from some SF "dude" who said it was for not smiling when I crossed the street... If he was getting paid for handing out "no smiling is forbidden in SF" tickets I didn't stay around to ask. But later I thought he must be one of those really happy guys who does that stuff for fun or as a pick up line..... tooooo happy.
    SF, lost in its own facade and superficial importance.

    May 4, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • eville_!!

      anyway, there's a ship it seems for sale, and with its own floating dock... stealth even, SF could put em in there at night and during the day just hit the cloaking switch... presto... no homeless. They can earn bucks by giving tours of the stealthiness equipment.. or better a few tours west and do some spying on China... CIA would support that.
      If I can think of that, why can't they ..

      May 4, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  12. Tom

    I love how they're more worried about them in the park than worried about how they're going to get them to not be homeless in the first place. Damn homeless always not being in a home. You'd think they'd just go buy a 100,000 dollar home or something.

    May 4, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. karenjl

    Sooooooo the homeless get blasted with sound, move on but move on to where???? Why not find a solution to the problem? In this great country of ours – NO ONE should go homeless / hungry

    May 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • VivaVentura

      You're right, no one should go homeless or hungry. America has free schooling and every opportunity to work and be happy. Too bad they didn't take advantage of that. Most of us do and most of us work and have a home and food to eat. Some more then others, but life is what you put into it. If you sit on your ass and do nothing to help yourself what do you expect.

      May 4, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tim

    It's unbelievable how many heartless human beings there are n this world. No one seems t care that NOT ALL homeless are BUMS! They are not! Many of us have had a hard time and not due to decision making, or drugs, or blowing money. Sometimes there are other factors involved that could be bad investments, a bad marriage, variable interest rate mortgages, or a dream that just got away. Can you honestly just sit there and add insult to injury. This does not and will not solve the problem. These audio distractions are a mean tool to solve a out of sight, out of mind issue. But they will still be somewhere, waiting for that chance to recover, or fell mankind has not given up on them, or that maybe that dream is actually in reach. You can no longer wonder why the world is what it is anymore with all the non-caring, heartless souls that exist. Why can't we take that $20mil and invest in to homes, or an apartment building and jobs to make things better for these folks. Someday when it happens to you, regardless of the perfection you live in now, you will see that love conquers all. A little compassion wouldn't be a bad thing either !!!!

    May 4, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • KimItemMinistries

      Amen2that! Apartments for the homeless! Jobs for the homeless! Food and clothing, love and compassion!
      My husband and I have owned apartments in the bay area over 20 years, and that is just what we have done for others in need, homeless, needy, divorced, women fleeing in the night from abusive men, etc...All are now successfull, doing very well now, marriages restored, kids are benefiting when no one else wanted them. No food. They ate at our family dinner table till it got better for them, it did!..and some have even come back to my husband And some come back years later to thank him, us for all the help we gave them. We just give God All the glory-great things He has done! And Will do more I See here too! I believe!

      May 4, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Valkyrie

    Have you ever been homeless before?...Truly homeless??

    What they are doing to the homeless is a crime! San Francisco should be ashamed of itself!! What's next? Will the ATF/FBI go in there with armored vehicles and torch the area?? Yeah, that worked REAL well in 1993!

    Here's a novel idea: For starters.....BUILD MORE SHELTERS!!!

    May 4, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • KimItemMinistries

      I have never been homeless. Yet, as a child we were so poor that we never saw doctors, dentist, no insurance, my parents barely made the rent. Food came in late at night my dad dug out of trash cans in the back of supermarkets. We were happy to eat late at night. My dad was not able to work. My mom had no schooling and cared for us. She finally became a cook in a school full time, it helped.
      My dad still struggles. I am doing my best to help him. My mom gave up on him. Dad ended up on the streets then, living in cars. I help as he let's me, I help him now. His brother too finally gave up the streets after 10 years of living, pushing buggies, I took care of him too. I help him, he is getting better.
      I have a heart because I know how it feels. It's personal for me. Also, from when I was a child. I knew the ones who cared. I knew the ones who wished we would go away. I have forgiven them when I See them.
      Now as a adult, I am alive. I give back my life and all God gives me now and in the past, future to help homeless, needy, children, etc..
      Joyfully, happily I am an overcomer by the blood of the lamb (Jesus Christ with me) and the word of this my testimony.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
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