A loud piercing sound was heard coming from a downtown Portland, Oregon 7-Eleven earlier this week. Not long after, a noise control officer was dispatched to the corner store after receiving multiple complaints.
The officer, Paul van Orden, confirms that the convenience store violated Portland city code when it set up a piercing tone issuing from a box mounted above the 7-Eleven sign that sits above the front door. The sound registered at more than twice the legal limit. Portland’s noise regulation laws are some of the most specific in the entire U.S.
It is unclear exactly how long the sound had been emanating from the box installed by the store, but the store has confirmed that the purpose of the high pitched screaming sound was to discourage homeless people from congregating outside under the guise of creating a safer environment for the store’s employees.
The sound has since been disabled.
Bob Speltz, company spokesperson, elaborated:
“The safety of our employees, tenants and guests continues to be our top priority. We have been working with the City, the Portland Police Bureau and Downtown Clean & Safe to determine how best to deal with the persistent threat posed by public drug use, menacing behavior and other criminal activity at the corner of SW 4th Avenue and Taylor Street. This ongoing issue concerns a small group of individuals well known to law enforcement who have created a regular health and safety threat at and around this street corner. We have temporarily turned off the sound but will continue to address the criminal behavior that occurs daily at this location.”
The store was cited in the same manner a loud nightclub or any other noise complaint would be. Despite the disconcerting intent of the sound, van Orden contends that there is “really no need to get into an argument of what their intent was. It’s just something that, analyzing it, it’s not acceptable. I’ve been doing this 23 years, so in those years, I’ve had similar types of sounds. Usually it’s to scare away raccoons or cats or some kinds of critters.”
But homeless advocates think otherwise.
“Is this the kind of society we want to be? The kind of society that tries to make life harder for people on the margins,” said Kaia Sand, executive director of Street Roots, a local organization that prints a weekly newspaper sold by homeless people.
According to Jeff McKenzie, a local man who camps in the downtown area:
“Multiple nights, it played continuously, the entire night. It was on still during the day. Like it didn’t stop. It’s horrible because I’ve got sensitive hearing.”
Sand emphasized that the screaming tone is both dehumanizing and aggressive, adding, “If people are struggling with their mental health, if they’ve experience trauma, then sounds are that much more difficult to handle.”