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

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

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

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

For the past two weeks, a loudspeaker atop Patel’s shop has blasted 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. Employees reported seeing fewer homeless people hanging around, and the number of patrons coming in at night has returned to normal levels.

Patel acknowledged that non-stop music likely makes it difficult for the homeless to sleep at night. He said that he feels bad about piling up unlucky people, 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 clients don’t come, then that’s a problem”.

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

Patel’s idea is not new. Rite Aid stores in Los Angeles criticized Barry Manilow in 2018 for keeping the homeless out. A year later, city officials in West Palm Beach, Florida, used the nursery rhymes “Baby Shark” and “Raining Tacos” as weapons to prevent people from sleeping in the city’s waterfront park.

Patel isn’t even the first 7-Eleven franchisee to use classical music against the homeless. In recent years, store owners have followed suit in Los Angeles, Jacksonville, Florida, and Modesto, California.

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

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

Some churches have even used sprinklers to keep homeless people at bay, Tars said. And in several cities, officials have installed noise-making devices that emit high-pitched sounds to force them to leave campsites under overpasses and ledges.

Tars applauded the inventiveness but said it’s misdirected.

“We need that energy directed toward constructive solutions that will actually end homelessness rather than just take it out of public view,” he added.

Patel, who has 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 of years ago. In 2019, the City of Austin decriminalized sitting, lying down, and camping on public property. Two years later, voters responded by passing Proposition B, which once again made those things illegal.

In reaction to the resurrected ban, the homeless migrated from their publicly owned campsite to the abandoned Sonic restaurant next to the 7-Eleven, Patel said.

The number of customers 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 that he couldn’t mow because the lawn was littered with used needles. Unwilling to put his employees at risk, Patel said he spent thousands of dollars to hire a contractor that specializes in biohazardous waste removal.

Patel asked the homeless not to dump their used needles and trash over the fence on his property, a request they have more or less complied with, he said.

Patel said he called the police, but when officers arrived, the homeless people ran off Patel’s property and retreated to their encampment in the closed Sonic. The police said that unless the owner of that property complained, there was nothing they could do. When he called other city officials, they told him the same thing: Since it was private property, they couldn’t do anything unless the property owner asked for help, which hasn’t happened yet to Patel’s knowledge.

Patel ordered his employees to fire the homeless, but when workers were busy helping customers, unloading deliveries, or stocking shelves, their new next-door neighbors would return.

Next, Patel read about some 7-Eleven stores in California that play loud classical music or opera to rid their parking lots of homeless people. She decided to give it a try. He has hired a company to install the speaker in his store, including a cage to protect it. The provider also manages the music played and makes sure the volume levels comply with city ordinances.

Salem, who stays at the old Sonic, described the music as “absolutely disgusting.”

“It’s just a nightmare. Unbelievably loud. Two or three times, we could hear it on the other side of the complex,” Salem told KVUE.

Viral video of San Francisco man hosing down homeless woman sparks outrage

While not violent, the use of music as a weapon falls on a continuum of punishment targeting the homeless, Tars said. Not far on that spectrum are incidents like one that made headlines last week when a San Francisco business owner was caught on camera spraying a homeless woman with a hose as she demanded he move off the public sidewalk. .

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

“These private displays of insensitivity say that it is okay to treat our fellow Americans this way,” he said, adding that “all individual companies have the right to play that music loud, sure, but they should consider the broader implications of what treating someone who is homeless in that way could tell the community at large.”

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