Bill Graham Civic Auditorium Blasts Homeless With Sound In Effort To Disperse Nightly Encampment
SAN FRANCISCO -- Every evening, a makeshift encampment springs up in front of San Francisco's Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Dozens of chronically homeless people camp nightly on the City Hall-adjacent sidewalk.
And it's become a problem for venue's operator, Another Planet Entertainment.
Another Planet's response has been to blast very loud, very unpleasant noise--sirens, chainsaws, jackhammers, etc.--on loudspeakers nonstop between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. as a way to break up the nightly gathering.
The operators claim to have received a bevy of complaints about aggressive panhandlers from their own patrons, who come to the venue to catch performances by big-selling artists, as well as visitors walking to and from the nearby Davis Symphony Hall and War Memorial Opera House.
"I'm just at a point where I don't know what else to do," company vice president Mary Conde told the San Francisco Chronicle's mustache investigation squad.
Conde noted the solution has been "tremendously effective."
Bob Offer-Westort of the Coalition on Homelessness decried the tactic. "When one home resident uses sound to harass another home resident it’s a crime," he told The Huffington Post. "This is ludicrous."
Offer-Westort noted that this particular sidewalk is popular with the homeless primarily due to the large overhang of the building's marquee, which protects individuals when it rains. "People get harassed all over the Civic Center area," Offer-Westort added, "although, until now, that sidewalk had been a little better."
In addition to being one of San Francisco's premiere concert halls for over a generation, the auditorium has also long been associated with the homeless. The venue is the site of Project Homeless Connect, a bimonthly event coordinated by the city's Department of Public Heath during which hundreds of homeless men and women are matched up with service providers offering everything from dental care and HIV testing to legal advice and employment counseling.
While San Francisco voters passed a controversial sit-lie law in 2010 that criminalized sitting or lying down on the sidewalk, the ordinance is only in effect between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. During the late evening and early morning, there's no prohibition against sitting or sleeping on the sidewalk as long as urban campers stay off of private property and aren't blocking pedestrian traffic.
SFPD spokesperson Sgt. Michael Andraychak told HuffPost that SFPD received 21 service calls to the auditorium's address so far this year regarding homeless issues; however, he was unable to say how many of them were specifically related to sit-lie.
Using unpleasant sounds to disperse the homeless isn't the only method business owners around the country have devised to combat individuals legally using public space near their buildings in ways they don't approve.
In the early 1990s, a Los Angeles shopkeeper made the news after installing outdoor sprinklers and dousing the sizable homeless population that would routinely gather around his storefronts. The tactic drew the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union who, told the Los Angeles Times that the tactic was "reminiscent of the 1960s when they turned water on civil rights marchers."
Between 6,000 and 12,000 people sleep on the streets of San Francisco every night.