MIAMI: In a bid to deter homeless people from sleeping near its chic events centre, a Florida city has been blaring aggravating children’s tunes all night long.
For weeks, West Palm Beach has pressed play at dusk on the mind-numbingly catchy bops “Baby Shark” and “Raining Tacos” next to its Lake Pavilion at Centennial Square Park, a tactic criticised by advocates who say it fails to address the structural causes of homelessness.
The bane of parents and teachers worldwide, the wildly infectious song “Baby Shark” soared from the children’s YouTube realm to the Billboard Hot 100 earlier this year, buoyed by a dance craze and hypnotically colourful video.
In West Palm Beach the song’s signature “doo doo doos” ring across the coastal lawn before small voices sing “it’s the end.”
But it is not the end.
Next up is “Raining Tacos,” in which “lettuce and shell, cheese and meat!” fall from the sky.
The cloying ditties play on loop until dawn, an effort to “discourage congregating at the building, and, if applicable, to encourage people to seek safer, more appropriate shelter through the many resources that are available,” said city spokeswoman Kathleen Walter in a statement to AFP.
“The music volume complies with city code, and is a temporary measure, as we are exploring the possibility of having set hours for the Great Lawn and Pavilion,” she said.
Sonic deterrence strategies have been used elsewhere for a variety of reasons, including in Philadelphia parks where officials installed devices that emit high-pitched ringing noises that only youthful ears can detect, an effort to keep teenagers out at night.
The group the Lord’s Place, which collaborates with the city to combat homelessness, said playing the tunes “would not have been our choice” but encouraged focusing on “the bigger picture.”
“Does it take our breath away? Yes. We wouldn’t have chosen to go down that route,” said the organisation’s CEO Diana Stanley. “We are always going to advocate for humanity.”
“It’s an area that is frequented by big events,” she told AFP. “But it comes back to folks that wanted a quality of life versus folks that really have nowhere else to sleep.”
The sister city of glitzy Palm Beach – home to Donald Trump’s lavish Mar-a-Lago resort – West Palm Beach has seen its homeless population drop by 24% in the past year, according to figures released last month by the mayor’s office.
Mayor Keith James attributed the decline in street living to increased outreach by agencies who connect people to social services.
Stanley emphasised the city has demonstrated a commitment to housing its residents, saying “this particular incident is isolated.”
“It’s really critical that we don’t take our eyes off the bigger picture and the bigger issues in this story – why are there still people sleeping outside on the streets?”