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. John John

    If people cannot shelter themselves they need to be locked up for training or education, or sent to prison if they have warrants out on them. $200 million to combat homelessness? You could buy them houses and train them and find them jobs for that wad of cash! Having homeless kids is child abuse, plain and simple. It is proof that those parent do not have the capacity to take care of their children. I know this is a bad economy and all, but begging is NOT the same as getting a job.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jj

      Get a job you bums!!! Problem solved!

      May 2, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. alex barnes

    The article said that $200 million is spent a year to combat this "issue". Wow, why not spend half that and build government housing to put the 2,200 children in and the other six thousand or so. Then spend the other half on getting these people the help they really need. Solved. And until that, I pack up gallon ziploc bags with stuff from the dollar store like toothpaste, brush, bottle of water etc. I keep them in my car and that's what I hand out when I see a human in need. And yes, I lived in SF for years, downtown.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chit

    May everyone who is bashing, using outdated sterotypes, and making a specious political statement find themselves in their position. Anything you have can be taken away.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Eagle Eye

    Surely with all the money we give Israel, we could divert some of it back to homeless American citizens rather than giving them the ole 'Palestenian' treatment.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • John John

      We don't give very much money to any country. We DO spend a lot bullying though.

      May 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Wastrel

    This should be in violation of a noise ordinance. The company is getting a pass because the "homeless problem" bothers the city more, but just see what happens if a live band starts to play outdoors in that neighborhood at night.

    It's only a matter of time before "disadvantaged" and "homeless" people decide they won't put up with this and other stupid acts by governments and police, and they hit back.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • flox

      yeh right. they are too drunk to do anything about it.

      May 3, 2012 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Let 'em eat soylent green

      Bring it. They'll get a permanent home then.

      May 4, 2012 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
  6. on your lawn

    If you have room on your lawn, send me your address and I'll bring a dozen or so over. Oh, thats right you'd rather complain about how the auditorium solved their problem or talk about how the govt is spending too much/not enough time and money on this or that. Maybe if you got off the couch, stop chanting Obama 2012, and got involved in solving the problem instead of chucking rocks and blame at folks, things would change.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amused

      So, what is your great idea to "solve the problem", hmm? Shoot them dead!?? Poison them?

      May 2, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Robin

    Isn't this how they get rid of unwanted birds and rats...stop treating them like vermin and treat them like human beings that need help!!! For goodness sakes, they need help not to be hearded. Sheesh! We could all be like them if we fell on hard times or had mental problems and couldn't afford the medication.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Let 'em eat soylent green

      Feel free to invite a dozen of the bums into your home, Robin.

      They are vermin. They are homeless because they prefer their booze and drugs to acting like human beings. They're not homeless because they "fell on hard times," they're homeless because they fell on hard times and had burned all their bridges with family and friends due to their behavior.

      May 4, 2012 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  8. David Ellis

    "The problem gets worse each year, despite the city's spending $200 million annually to combat it, according to the newspaper."

    California has one of the largest number of homeless people of any state. It is also home to the most millionaires.
    It is also one of the most progressive states in the US.

    Perhaps the answer does not lie with lavish spending followed by draconian enforcement tactics.
    Perhaps California should re-examine the progressive agenda that is forcing the gap between rich and poor ever wider.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. FauxNews

    After they sue them for permanently damaging their hearing, they won't be homeless.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Freedom

    $200,000,000 divided by 6,000 homeless = $33,333 per person per year (data from article).

    Please clarify why $33,333 per head isn't enough.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      Your calculation is flawed! You are only counting the numbers of people on the streets each night – that is 6000. You aren't counting the 37,000 families who spend nights in shelters, on people's couches, etc. So do your figures again using 43,000 people.

      May 2, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • ClaudeRaines

      Because that $200 million isn't going towards what the government says its going towards.

      May 2, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Michael Fox

    $200 Million to help 6,000 homeless is $33.33 per person per year. Think about that.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • justin p

      you mean 33 thousand

      May 3, 2012 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  12. Michael Fox

    Oops, missed a comma. Sorry.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Michael Fox

    It does make me wonder, though, how much of that money actually goes to the homeless, or are they just paying case workers who are overwhelmed by the number of homeless?

    May 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Let 'em eat soylent green

      They are paying the bloated "homeless industry" made up of thousands of very well-paid college-educated liberals, all expecting jobs with starting pay in the $75,000 range, since "SF is so expensive to live in."

      Like any other bureaucracy, the one thing they will never do is "fix" the problem and put themselves out of a nice job.

      May 4, 2012 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
  14. Thomas Menino

    Sarin Gas works fine

    May 2, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      Oh great idea! Let's gas some homeless families. Thomas Menio, you lack of empathy is disgusting!

      May 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Andrew

    "The problem gets worse each year, despite the city's spending $200 million annually to combat it"

    There's the problem, they keep coming to SF because they know SF will spend money on them. Why be homeless in Seattle, where they'll spend less money?

    May 2, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Art

      I agree. Here in NYC we spend more money on the homeless than the next 5 or 6 cities combined and it's still not enough. Whenever homeless people were interviewed, they always came from another city. Almost none were native New Yorkers.

      May 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      Big metro areas like NYC, San Fran, etc. of course have more homeless people. So many people think big cities offer them more options to find work and then they end up not finding anything and homeless.

      May 2, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • You made your bed

      In Phoenix we give them a baloney sandwich, generic orange sode, and a $55 one way bus ticket to San Francisco.

      May 2, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
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