When police intervention failed to solve the problem, Patel tried a new technique: playing classical music.
For the past two weeks, a loudspeaker on top of Patel’s shop has been blasting the likes of Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart 24/7. So far it seems to be working, said Patel, who owns three 7-Eleven franchises in the Austin area. Workers have reported seeing fewer homeless people loitering and the number of customers coming in at night has returned to normal.
Patel acknowledged that the nonstop music probably makes it hard for the homeless to sleep at night. He said he feels bad about piling on people who are out of luck, especially since they are also his customers.
“But at the same time I have to protect my company. This is my bread and butter. And if my clients don’t come, that’s a problem.”
Patel’s idea is not new. Rite Aid stores Los Angeles destroyed Barry Manilow in 2018 to keep homeless people away. A year later, city officials stepped in West Palm Beach, Fla.weaponized the nursery rhymes “Baby Shark” and “Raining Tacos” to keep people from sleeping in the city’s waterfront park.
“Studies have shown that classical music is annoying. Opera is annoying, and I guess they’re right because it works,” he said KTBC.
Eric Tars, legal director of the National Homelessness Law Center, told The Washington Post that weaponizing classical music is just one example of the “hostile architecturewhich government officials, church leaders, and business owners use to drive homeless people out of public view. Others include public benches with armrests that prevent people from lying down, spikes on flat surfaces to achieve a similar goal, and boulders in green spaces to prevent camping.
Some churches even have used sprinklers to keep the homeless at bay, Tars said. And in a number of cities, officials have installed noise-making devices that emit high-pitched sounds to force them to leave camps under viaducts and overhangs.
Tars applauded the inventiveness, but said it was misdirected.
“We need that energy focused on the constructive solutions that will actually end homelessness, rather than just pushing it out of public view,” he added.
Patel, who has owned the store on East Oltorf Street and Parker Lane for more than 11 years, said the situation regarding his 7-Eleven started a few years ago. 2019, the city of Austin has decriminalized sitting, lying, and camping on public property. Two years later, voters responded with approval proposal Bmaking it illegal again to do those things.
In response to the resurrected ban, homeless people migrated their camp from public property to the abandoned Sonic restaurant next to the 7-Eleven, Patel said.
Customer numbers have plummeted by a third over the course of about a year, Patel said. At one point, he noticed that the grass around the 7-Eleven was overgrown. Patel’s landscaper told him he couldn’t mow because the grass was full of spent needles. Unwilling to put his employees at risk, Patel said he spent thousands of dollars to hire a contractor who specializes in biohazardous waste disposal.
Patel asked the homeless not to throw their used needles and trash over the fence on his property, a request they more or less honored, he said.
Patel said he called the police, but when officers arrived, the homeless people ran from Patel’s property and retreated to their camp at the shuttered Sonic. Police said unless the owner of that property complained, there was nothing they could do. When he greeted other city officials, they told him the same thing: since it was private property, there was nothing they could do unless the owner of the property called for help, which to Patel’s knowledge still hasn’t happened.
Patel instructed his employees to turn homeless people away, but when the workers were busy helping customers, unloading deliveries or stocking shelves, their new neighbors would return.
Then Patel read about some 7-Eleven stores in California blaring classical music or opera to rid their parking lots of homeless people. He decided to give it a try. He hired a company to install the speaker on his storefront, including a cage to protect it. The seller also controls the music that is played and ensures that the volume level complies with city ordinances.
Salem, who resides at the former Sonic, described the music as “absolutely off-putting”.
‘It’s just a nightmare. Incredibly loud. Two or three times we heard it on the other side of the complex,” said Salem KVUE.
While nonviolent, the use of music as a weapon falls on a continuum of punishments aimed at the homeless, Tars said. Not too far up that spectrum are incidents like the one that hit the headlines last week when a San Francisco entrepreneur was caught on camera spraying a homeless woman with a garden hose while demanding to get off the public sidewalk.
Those could then lead to even more violent attacks, Tars said.
“These private demonstrations of insensitivity say it’s okay to treat our fellow Americans this way,” he said, adding that “any individual company has the right to play that loud music, sure, but they would need to consider larger implications of what treating someone who is homeless might say to the wider community.