National

High-pitched noise at Portland 7-Eleven was ‘to keep homeless people away,’ clerk says

A Portland, Oregon, building with a 7-Eleven in it put out a device that emits a high-pitched, piercing noise to deter the homeless from camping and sleeping. City officials shut it down, saying it was too loud.
A Portland, Oregon, building with a 7-Eleven in it put out a device that emits a high-pitched, piercing noise to deter the homeless from camping and sleeping. City officials shut it down, saying it was too loud. Screen grab from KGW

A 7-Eleven in downtown Portland has to rethink its intentionally obnoxious strategy to keep homeless people from sleeping and camping outside the store.

City officials said the building housing the 7-Eleven is breaking a Portland noise control code by blaring a piercing, high-pitched noise to drive away the homeless, KGW reports.

“It’s the same as a nightclub,” city noise control officer Paul van Orden said, adding that the sound appeared to be turned off on Thursday, according to the TV station. “If they’re too loud, we work with them.”

Alex Zielinski, news editor at Portland Mercury, posted a video clip on Twitter Wednesday demonstrating how shrill the sound outside the convenience store was.

Zielinski said she asked the convenience store clerk about the noise, and was told it was meant to “keep homeless people away.” She later wrote in an article that “the new tactic is working: The corner outside of 7-Eleven was clear Wednesday afternoon.

Others shared clips of the ceaseless “screeching” as well.

The owner of the building at Southwest 4th Avenue and Taylor Street justified the noise in a statement to KGW.

“Our goal is to protect the safety of our employees, tenants and guests in a location that has been consistently plagued by public drug use and menacing behavior,” Standard Insurance Company spokesman Bob Speltz told the TV station. “The sound is a safe tool to help address the problems that have persisted at this location.”

But not everyone agrees the sound was safe — or appropriate.

“It kind of makes my jaw hurt,” Brook Barrett said as he walked by, according to KGW. “There are frequencies that can damage people and hurt people.”

Even the mayor’s office weighed in.

“Business owners have rights when it comes to their property. But when it comes to public space, everyone ... has rights as well,” Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office said in a statement, KOIN reports. “If a crime is taking place — that’s a different story. Then people should call 911.”

The blaring noise was a departure from the Classical music the 7-Eleven used to play, in an earlier bid to make the intersection inhospitable to those who might camp out.

“But it didn’t work, there were always homeless people outside,” Madhur Sharma, the 7-Eleven manager, told KOIN. “They’re shooting stuff into their veins, sitting right outside on the sidewalk.”

Some 7-Elevens in California have taken similar measures to deter loiterers and panhandlers, the Modesto Bee reported last year: A 7-Eleven location in the Central Valley city has blared opera music from speakers outside, though it can’t be heard in the store itself.

A Modesto 7-Eleven is using opera to deal with a problem that vexes the entire city: people who panhandle, loiter and sleep in front of local businesses.

“Once the music started, the riffraff left,” 47-year-old Manuel Souza, who is homeless and jokingly included himself in that category, told the Bee. “It’s hard to hang out and gossip and joke around.”

The store owner said he uses a “mosquito device” that emits a “high-pitched screech” at stores in Stockton and Ceres to similar effect, the Bee reported.

Sharma, the manager at the Portland 7-Eleven, told KOIN that the number of homeless people on the streets outside is bad for business. And while it lasted, the high-pitched noise was working, Sharma confirmed.

“There are still one or two people here or sleeping in the night, but instead of seven or eight,” Sharma told KOIN.

Democrats have a lot of work to do on affordability and homelessness said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

  Comments