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7-Eleven store owner uses classical music to drive away homeless people

7-Eleven store owner uses classical music to drive away homeless people

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Jagat Patel said business at his 7-Eleven in Texas has suffered ever since a group of homeless people moved to an empty lot next door. For the past year and a half, he said, customers have complained about being pressured to pay for services like window washing or outright asked for money.

When police intervention didn’t resolve the issue, Patel tried a new technique: playing classical music.

For the past two weeks, a speaker atop Patel’s store has blasted the likes of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart 24/7. So far, it appears to be working, said Patel, who owns three 7-Eleven franchises in the Austin area. Employees have reported seeing fewer homeless people hanging around, and the number of customers coming in at night has rebounded to normal levels.

Patel acknowledged that the nonstop music probably makes it tough for homeless people to sleep at night. He said he feels bad about piling on people who are down on their luck, especially since they are also his customers.

“But at the same time, I have to protect my business. This is my bread and butter. And if my customers don’t come, then that’s a problem.”

City plays ‘Baby Shark’ on loop to keep homeless from sleeping in waterfront park

Patel’s idea is not new. Rite Aid stores in The Angels blasted Barry Manilow in 2018 to keep homeless people away. A year later, city officials in West Palm Beach, Fla.weaponized the children’s songs “Baby Shark” and “Raining Tacos” to keep people from sleeping in the city’s waterfront park.

Patel isn’t even the first 7-Eleven franchisee to use classical music against homeless people. Over the past several years, store owners have done the same thing in The Angels, Jacksonville, Fla.and Modesto, Calif.

“Studies have shown that the classical music is annoying. Opera is annoying, and I’m assuming they are correct because it’s working,” he told KTBC.

Eric Tars, legal director at the National Homelessness Law Center, told The Washington Post that weaponizing classical music is but one example of the “hostile architecture” that government officials, church leaders and business owners use to drive homeless people out of public view. Others include public benches with armrests that block people from lying down, spikes on flat surfaces to achieve a similar end and boulders in green spaces to prevent camping.

Some churches have even used sprinklers to keep homeless people 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 abandon camps under overpasses and overhangs.

Tars applauded the inventiveness but said it’s misdirected.

“We need that energy directed at the constructive solutions that are actually going to end homelessness rather than just push it out of public view,” he added.

Patel, who’s owned the store at East Oltorf Street and Parker Lane for more than 11 years, said the situation affecting his 7-Eleven started a couple years ago. In 2019the city of Austin decriminalized sitting, lying and camping on public property. Two years later, voters responded by approving Proposition Bwhich once again made doing those things illegal.

Reacting to the resurrected ban, homeless people migrated their camp from public property to the abandoned Sonic restaurant next to the 7-Eleven, Patel said.

The number of customers plummeted by one-third over the course of about a year, Patel said. At one point, he noticed the grass around the 7-Eleven was overgrown. Patel’s landscaper told him he couldn’t mow because the grass was filled with used needles. Unwilling to put his employees at risk, Patel said he spent thousands of dollars to hire a contractor that specializes in removing biohazardous waste.

Patel asked the homeless people not to toss their used needles and trash over the fence onto his property, a request they’ve more or less honored, he said.

Patel said he has called police, but when officers arrived, the homeless people scampered from Patel’s property, retreating to their camp at the shuttered Sonic. Police said that, unless the owner of that property complained, they couldn’t do anything. When he hailed other city officials, they told him the same thing: Since it was private property, they couldn’t do anything unless the property owner requested help, which still hasn’t happened as far as Patel knows.

Patel directed his employees to send homeless people away, but when the workers were busy helping customers, unloading deliveries or stocking shelves, their new next-door neighbors returned.

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’s hired a company to install the speaker on his storefront, including a cage to protect it. The vendor also manages the music that’s played and ensures that the volume levels comply with city ordinances.

Salem, a who stays at the former Sonic, described the music as “absolutely obnoxious.”

“It’s just a nightmare. Incredibly loud. Two or three times, we have been able to hear it on the other side of the complex,” Salem told KVUE.

Viral video of San Francisco man hosing homeless woman sparks outrage

While nonviolent, using music as a weapon falls on a continuum of punishment aimed at homeless people, Tars said. Not too far along that spectrum are incidents like one that made news last week when a San Francisco business owner was caught on camera spraying a homeless woman with a hose while demanding she move from the public sidewalk.

Those can then lead to even more violent attacks, Tars said.

“These private demonstrations of callousness say that it’s okay to treat our fellow Americans this way,” he said, adding that “every individual business, they have the right to play that loud music, sure, but they should consider the larger implications of what treating someone experiencing homelessness like that might say to the larger community.”

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