As traffic traverses the Pensacola Bay Bridge, most drivers are unaware what lies beneath the rhythm of their tires. It’s revealed to seagulls and boaters, charity and cops.
“It’s possibly a couple of years they’ve been there,” explained Pensacola Police Chief Chip Simmons. “Unless you walk down on the rocks, you can’t see ’em.”
At the foot of the bridge, at Wayside Park, lives a community of homeless. Several people addressed the Pensacola City Council recently with concerns about police visitations to the encampment and threats of evictions.
“To these people, this is considered their home to them, some of them have lived down there for years,” said Jason King. “I personally am a United States Army Veteran, I know at least 11 other guys down there are Marine veterans, who live unsheltered, in Pensacola, under a bridge, which is already pushed to the farthest edges of our society as possible.”
King does not live under the bridge. He’s with Sean’s Outpost, which provides food to area homeless. He describes the Bay Bridge community as roughly 18-core individuals who are “generally very happy,” but had drifted toward “an environment of terror” since police had repeatedly visited their camp.
“These guys were very concerned they weren’t going to have a place to live,” King told the council.
The city administration had already been approached. King, along with several others, was concerned the city was about to crack down as per the reports of recent police visits. They were under the impression that Simmons had been working with Father Nathan Monk—a homeless advocate who became a brief Youtube sensation after former city council president Sam Hall attempted to have him forcibly removed from a meeting in 2011, and has now left town for further divinity training—to work toward an amiable solution.
“If you just say, ‘Hey, get out,’ you’re not going to fix the problem at all,” King said.
Simmons said that there was no pending eviction. He said officers had visited the park after reports someone had broken into the drop box for the fishing bridge. The chief explained to council how he had personally visited the camp after the complaints of threats.
“We had a very good conversation,” Simmons said.
The chief also explained that he had been in talks with Monk, and that the police were presently taking a hands-off approach. However, the property in question actually belongs to the Florida Department of Transportation.
“I told them that that was DOT property, and as long as we don’t get a complaint from DOT, we’re going to just leave it until we can come up with a concrete plan of what to do with these people that are homeless,” Simmons said.
The chief later said that the bridge camp hasn’t presented too many problems for law enforcement. He gets occasional complaints from boaters, who have a better view.
“Unless we get a call to remove them, there’s no direction to remove them,” the chief said.