Hidden down a bumpy dirt path strewn with litter off of Massachusetts Avenue lies nine acres of wooded land covered with overgrowth, trash, old tires and even a discarded boat. Satoshi Forest doesn’t look like much right now, but Jason King and his organization, Sean’s Outpost, are putting in the work to turn it into a unique sanctuary for Pensacola’s growing homeless population.
Named in tribute to his best friend, Sean Dugas—a Pensacola News Journal reporter who was murdered last year—King and his wife were looking for a way to keep Dugas’ memory alive when they founded Sean’s Outpost in February of this year. They began by serving one meal each week, but it quickly blossomed as King met and spoke with more and more of Pensacola’s homeless. Now they produce about 700 sack lunches each week and also serve hot meals in parks around Escambia County every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There are currently five core members of Sean’s Outpost with an additional five to 10 periodic volunteers.
“Primarily, we go out to homeless camps and deliver sack lunches, because there’s not really anyone else serving that need,” King said. He said that working in with other outreach programs, often a person would come in and ask for an extra meal to take back to a friend at camp, only to be denied and told that if his friend wasn’t able to make it to the premises, then they wouldn’t be able to feed him. King said he spoke to one man about this who told him that his friend couldn’t make it because he had a broken leg.
“He’s already homeless, which already sucks,” King said. “Now he’s hurt and sitting in this homeless camp and he gets less care now? That really sucks.”
That was when King was inspired to deliver lunches rather than force everyone to come to wherever the meals are being served, but it hasn’t been simple.
“It’s a process, because the homeless don’t want you to know where they live when they live out on the streets,” King said. “Its a trust thing—if you know where they live, then they are very vulnerable, but over time we developed trust with these people and learned where they live and now five days a week we bring sack lunches out all over Escambia County.”
Sean’s Outpost is primarily funded by donations made through Bitcoins. Bitcoins are a decentralized cryptocurrency not backed by or controlled by any bank or other authority. They are mined using a complex computing process and because of that, their true value is hard to quantify. However, the price of a Bitcoin hit $50 for the first time earlier this year, and as of last week was up to around $357.
King said there was a lot of argument over the real and perceived value of Bitcoin currency, due to its speculative nature, but he looked at it in a different way.
“At the time, Bitcoins were at $50,” King said. “I can feed about 40 guys for $50, so if you send me a Bitcoin, I’ll go feed 40 people and we can stop arguing over what the value is, because the value is this—40 starving people aren’t starving anymore.”
That attitude sparked a flame of support in the various Bitcoin online communities and forums, and donations soon started to blaze in—which King and Sean’s Outpost backed up by heavily documenting everything they did or plan to do, taking pictures and really showing the donors what their money was going to.
“You donate to a lot of charities,” King explained. “You put some money in a jar or send some money somewhere, but you don’t actually ever know what that money is being used for specifically. We try to be the opposite of that and say, ‘This is exactly what we’re doing.’ We try to be very open about what we’re doing and that seems to resonate well.”
The Satoshi Forest project, named after the pseudonym of Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto, is King’s latest brainchild. While right now it is little more than a trashed parcel of wooded land tucked behind a residential community, King hopes to create a self-sustaining sanctuary for area homeless in an effort to stand up to the city’s recent efforts to criminalize homelessness and give people a place to camp without fear of being arrested.
“It’s illegal to camp on public property,” King said. “It’s illegal to panhandle, it’s illegal to clean yourself outside, but it’s also illegal for you to go into a public restroom to clean yourself—so if you have no home, it’s basically illegal to bathe. We have no shelters in Pensacola. No permanent, long-term shelters at all. We have 30 shelter beds for over 1000 homeless in the Escambia area, and the city’s answer to it was to pass anti-homeless ordinances. It was surreal.”
King called Satoshi Forest serendipitous. He knew that they had to locate somewhere for homeless people to camp safely, and the wording of the ordinance says that, while homeless cannot camp on public property, they can do so on private property.
“You can sleep in the city park,” King said. “You just can’t have a blanket. You can’t have any sort of camping gear, or tent, or anything to keep you warm. In May, when the ordinances were passed, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but it’s getting down to the 40s at night already. We have homeless people die every year here from exposure. They die with blankets. They die with tents. Now the city has literally taken these options away from them.”
Sean’s Outpost began searching for a small building or other parcel of land that could serve as a private shelter, and what they found was nine acres of woods, for a reasonable price, held by someone who was willing to take Bitcoin payment directly toward the mortgage.
Now they plan to take this land and turn it into a self-sustaining food forest over the course of the next one to two years, where they hope to produce most of the food that they will use for meals locally, using permaculture and aquaponics techniques that they will teach to homeless citizens who want to work and live on the farm.
Permaculture and aquaponics are two sustainable farming techniques that will allow for a higher food yield with the use of fewer outside components such as fertilizer.
“Most American industrialized farming works in monoculture,” King explained, which means that a farmer only produces one type of crop. “The problem with that is, is that it strips a lot of valuable nutrients out of the soil, because your crop only uses one thing from the soil, so then you get into this issue where you have to use a lot of artificial fertilizers to keep the crops going year after year. It’s not sustainable.”
He said the unsustainability can be fixed by growing multiple crops at the same time, allowing different plants to take different nutrients from the soil while others replenish them. This is known as permaculture.
“It’s a way of planting that is less work to do and completely sustainable,” King said. “Because you create a sort of cyclical nature where one plant sort of takes care of the other one, and you actually boost whole food yield. You might not get two tons of one thing, but of total production of all the food you’re growing, you’ll probably get three or four tons.”
They plan to teach homeless laborers permaculture techniques, giving them survival skills as well as a way to make money outside of panhandling.
Aquaponics is an extension of permaculture, which allows for even greater sustainability by farming fish in fish tanks and pumping the fish waste out to fertilize the crops, while the plants provide oxygen to the fish—essentially creating livestock and crops that provide for one another.
On top of all that, they plan to produce several of what they are calling “BitHouses” for people to stay in. These BitHouses are small structures on wheels, large enough for two people to stay in, that come from the Tiny House Movement that has been steadily growing nationwide over the past several years. Tiny houses cost less than traditional homes, provide a smaller ecological footprint and allow owners to live a more affordable life.
“Lots of people have a problem with giving homeless people money,” King said. “But they aren’t opposed to working for it, so we thought that one of the coolest things we could do is pay a homeless carpenter to build a house for another homeless person. Pensacola has this bounty of awesome homeless carpenters because they are all here after Hurricane Ivan destroyed us and we needed help rebuilding, but when all the work dried up, we didn’t have the support for them.”
There is already one BitHouse on the property and King said he hopes to have at least two more within the next month or two.
Satoshi Forest is mostly in the clearing stage right now. There are masses of garbage piled up, there are weeds to chop down and there is a significant amount of work to be done, but it’s coming along. It’s there, it’s happening and Sean’s Outpost is committed to this vast homeless sanctuary.
For more information, visit seansoutpost.com.