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Joel John Roberts Headshot

San Francisco Blasts Sonic Noises to Disperse Homeless

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I'm not surprised anymore when people complain to their local council member about homeless people sleeping in the alley behind their houses. Or when homeowners call the police insisting that these people are breaking the law and need to be arrested.


What about angry neighbors who create blogs that post contact information of homeless advocates? Not surprised.


But I am astonished on what is going on in downtown San Francisco. Even this sometimes-jaded charity leader cannot believe the actions of the managers of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, located in the city's Tenderloin district and home to hundreds of people who are homeless.


They have set up speakers on the surrounding sidewalks in order to blast ear-piercing noises -- like the sound of jackhammers, chainsaws and aircraft carrier alarms -- with the hope of dispersing people sleeping on nearby sidewalks.


It reminds me of when the U.S. Government tried to disperse Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega out of a Catholic center by blasting loud rock music into the compound. Of course, here they are hurting people on the streets of San Francisco who are not third world terrorists, at least none that I have met.


I wonder what Billy Graham, the evangelist would say? Oh wait, the auditorium is named after concert promoter Bill Graham, not the evangelist.


I wonder what the concert promoter would say? Graham the promoter produced large-scale charitable concerts like Live Aid and Human Rights Now! I'm guessing he experienced hundreds of people sleeping on the sidewalks outside of his concert venues. He only used loud speakers to entertain his concert goers, not shoo away homeless people.


I'm surprised that the City of San Francisco, home to the innovative community response to homelessness called Project Connect, would allow such ruckus. This initiative, created eight years ago, mobilized thousands of San Franciscans to help bring services to their homeless neighbors. Is the city now frustrated that their innovations are not ending homelessness in downtown?


I do realize that most communities around the country are frustrated that very poor Americans are squatting on land throughout this country. Not-In-My-Backyard has almost become a popular community anthem. But police sweeps and angry blogs are not very effective.


There is, however, a very simple way to disperse our homeless neighbors. House them!