With the help of two local businesses and the Humanists of West Florida, 40 trees were planted at the Satoshi Forest homeless campground.
It’s one of the final phases of the camp’s development plan.
In 2018, Satoshi Forest was authorized as a temporary home for the area’s homeless after a lengthy court battle with Escambia County.
But the approval was not without provisions, including a paved driveway at the entrance of the camp, a privacy fence around the nine-acre property, and additional trees and shrubbery to create a barrier between the camp and the residential area.
“Our court case with the county determined there were four things that we needed to do to come into compliance and that was to put in a driveway, put in fire extinguishers and then we had to put up fencing, which is mostly done,” said Mike Kimberl, co-founder and director of Sean’s Outpost, the group that founded the campsite. “We’re going to do the trees, finish up the fencing and we’re done — we’re almost there.”
Prepared with gloves and shovels, a handful of volunteers from Humanists of West Florida on Wednesday starting digging into the ground. Larry Downs Jr., of Larry Downs Jr. Plumbing brought a backhoe loader, and Panhandle Growers of Milton provided the trees.
The Humanists of West Florida have been longstanding supporters of the campground. You’ll see the group’s logo on the six extinguishers that were installed last year. President Betty Myers said it perfectly speaks to the mission of the organization.
“We’re about showing goodwill to the community,” she said. “We’re nonreligious and while we’re in the minority, we’re not the three-headed beast. We want to leave the world a better place and give an equal playing field to all of humankind.”
Satoshi Forest was established in late 2013 as a direct action in response to the city of Pensacola criminalizing outdoor camping on public land, explained Kimberl.
“And so we figured if you couldn’t camp on public land, we should buy some land and let people camp on private land,” he added.
An anonymous $10,000 donation was the down payment, funding from donors helps to pay the monthly mortgage. The campsite allows up to 20 shelters. Right now, 16 are occupied and Kimberl is working to fill the final spots.
“We give priority to demographics like women, people over the age of 50, those who are disabled but can still take care of themselves, and the LGBTQ community” he explained.
Satoshi Forest is not meant to be a permanent housing solution, but a safe, transitional space.
“This is not an end goal. This is not a retirement plan,” said Kimberl. “Our goal is to get them back into better accommodations.”
Tracy Murray has lived at the Satoshi Forest for nearly three years. He’s been homeless on and off for eight years after his vehicle broke down and he lost his job. He’s now on disability for his neuropathy.
“Sometimes it doesn’t take much (to be homeless),” Murray said standing outside his tent. “I know probably 20 people living paycheck to paycheck and if they miss one they’re out here with me.”
Murray said he’d like to move out of the camp and into an apartment. For now, Satoshi Forest is “awesome.”
“(Satoshi Forest) is a good thing,” he said. “There’s people out there right now that don’t have what I have. They’re living day to day, ducking in and out of allies and a patch of woods. It's not an easy life. Right now I’ve got it pretty good.”