Local Homeless Advocate To Walk Across U.S.

Jan 21, 2014

Jason King in the WUWF studio.
Credit Dave Dunwoody

The co-founder of the Pensacola-based Sean’s Outpost is set to leave Wednesday on a nationwide walk to call attention to the plight of the homeless. Jason King sat down with WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody to talk about the group’s mission.

Dave Dunwoody: Jason, how did Sean’s Outpost get it’s name and how did it get started?

Jason King: It’s kind of a crappy story. Sean’s Outpost is named after Sean Degas. He was my best friend and a local reporter here for the PNJ. He was murdered in 2011 in cold blood.

It was devastating to me and my family. My wife and I actually found out about it on CNN and for months we thought about how to have a memorial or how to keep someone who was so special to us alive. Sean was always one of those people who was trying to, no matter who you were, no matter what your station in life he wanted to know what your story was. Some of my first interactions with the homeless were with Sean just being like, “Hey man what are you doing? Tell me about yourself,” and I was like “what are you doing, Sean? These are homeless dudes, we’re supposed to fear them!” And he’d be like, “Yeah, no. let’s go talk to all these awesome guys.”

So in February of last year St. Benedict’s mission was closing down and they had been helping the homeless for about eight years so we just knew there was going to be this hole in the homeless outreach in Pensacola. So my wife and I said you know, we could step up, do a meal a week or something just to keep that support going. You know how the rabbit hole goes you start doing one thing and  then you start breaking down your stereotypes of what makes somebody homeless and how wonderful these people are and how much compassion and humanity they just need. They just need someone to treat them like a human being. So now, just a year later, we have fed about 30,000 meals to the homeless- nine meals a week. And now we’ve just built this kind of awesome base of support here for the homeless.

Dave: before we get to your planned run let’s talk about Satoshi Forest. You’ve done a lot of work with that since you acquired the land. How do you propose to turn that into a homeless sanctuary?

Jason: Satoshi Forest, it’s about nine acres over off of Massachussetts Ave. It’s this beautiful old oak forest that butts up to some pretty wetlands.  It’s been blighted in Pensacola. It’s been like an illegal dumping ground for like the past ten years. When we purchased it it was just trash all over the property. And runoff problems from the surrounding neighborhoods have messed up the wetlands pretty bad and we came in and said you know what, we could come in and we could buy this property. We could clean it up, we removed tons of garbage from it, and we could create a primitive kind of campground there and we could create a campground where homeless people could go, you know, free of charge and we thought this was just a great solution to what is a huge problem here, you know we have over a thousand people homeless here on the streets of Escambia County. We have 30 shelter beds. You don’t need collegiate level mathematics to know that’s a real problem. And since we have terrible laws in the city and in the county about being homelesss: it’s illegal to camp on public property, it’s illegal to panhandle, it’s illegal to clean yourself in a public restroom. We said, you know, we’re a private organization why don’t we come up with a private solution to this, you know take some burden off the taxpayer.  That’s where Satoshi forest comes in. It’s a homeless sanctuary, it’s a nature preserve and we love it.

Dave: The upcoming efforts to get permits from the county, how much of an uphill battle is that going to be?

Jason: Well they’re going to make it really difficult for us. There’s really poor sentiment here, in the government, for the homeless, that’s why we have these ordinances that are so disparaging. But at the end of the day even Councilman Grover Robinson said, in the end we’re going to follow the permitting guidelines and eventually we are going get a permit as a campground out there. I understand that people have concerns about the homeless. Our property is zoned commercial too, a campground is a committed purpose to it. They have objective guidelines we have to meet, at the end of the day we’re going to meet those objective guidelines, we’re going to be a campground.

Dave: You get the permits, you get people moved in there. What kind of rules are going to be in place regarding shelters and conduct, things like that.

Jason: We have zero tolerance for violence and we have zero tolerance for drugs, like nothing. If there is a hint of that going on you leave. The area that we’re in, the neighborhood, there is actually kind of a decent drug problem. When we were clearing out Satoshi forest we found like 18 crack pipes out there stuffed over a clearing. This property had been used, for people to like go back in a shaded area and do drugs and do illicit activities and we are putting a complete  stop to that. And we believe in peoples’ abilities to police themselves, you don’t need a watchdog there like all the time.

Dave: Now, to the run.

Jason: I believe is 3,214 miles from Miami Beach, FL to San Francisco, CA.

Dave: How did you get the idea?

Jason: Well it’s two things: Sean’s Outpost is mostly bitcoin-based, we were one of the first and now the largest bitcoin based charity in the world. We think bitcoin is going to solve a lot of problems for people. There are a lot of people who are unbanked or underbanked here and have issues with that and we think bitcoin is going to solve a lot of those problems. But, (muffled) we have a homeless epidemic in America. People don’t realize the scope of it, but in a year 3.6 million Americans are going to find themselves homeless at least for one night. 1.6 million on any night. That’s one in one hundred Americans is going to experience homelessness this year. That’s astronomical. I don’t think we’re uncompassionate as people I think that people are unaware. Homelessness isn’t sexy like ‘cool let’s save the dogs’, cute little pictures of baby seals you know, homelessness is hard to look at. I think that’s where a lot of the resentment towards the homeless comes from, it’s hard to deal with as people, that we have marginalized this group of people so badly. So I’m going to do this stupid spectacle. I’m going to run across the whole dang country and raise awareness about it.  Just get people talking about it, about the issues and how simple the solutions are for it. Homelessness is a very complex problem. My daughter is diabetic. Diabetes is a very complex problem and it has a very complex solution. We’ve known the solution to homelessness and hunger for, literally, a millennia. Like, it’s a house and food. We throw away enough food in this country everyday to feed the world. And we have a surplus of housing here. So it’s like, we’re not stupid we can’ figure out a way to do this. I just think we need to realize there is a problem, recognize the scale of the problem, then we can come together and talk about some real solutions.

Dave: So what route are you going to take?

Jason: I’m going to go I-10. I mean, I’m not going to run ON I-10 that would probably be really stupid and dangerous. Come up, run back through Pensacola, you know, run Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, up into California.

Dave: How many miles do you plan to log a day?

Jason: In the beginning I’m going to try for 34 miles a day and that’s because I’m leaving from one bitcoin conference and trying to get to another one in Austin and to cover that ground I’m going to need to cover 34 miles a day. So if I could do that, I’m going to try to do 20 or 22 for the rest of the trip but I’m really going to try to haul it for the first month.

Dave: What about timeframe, when do you expect to be in San Francisco?

Jason: So I think it’s going to be four and a half or five months so I’ll probably be in San Francisco end of May, beginning of June-ish.

Dave: Aside from running, what are you going to be doing to raise awareness?

Jason: I’m going to be blogging, doing some video of what we’re doing. I’m going to be stoping along the way, meeting anybody, telling them about bitcoin, telling them about homelessness. We’ve got an awesome tour bus that our sponsor and partner, CryptoKit has given us, so we’ve got like basically a big ole rock and roll tour bus that says food, shelter, bitcoin, everybody. That’s the Sean’s Outpost slogan, you know I ‘think it will be a good conversation starter across the country.

Dave: What are you hoping people will take away from it?

Jason: I’m hoping people take away from it how large an impact one person can have on the homeless issues here. You know a lot of times people come up and ask, “how can we get involved?” and I’m like go home, make a sandwich and then give that sandwich to someone whose hungry. And they’re like, “no, no really.” And I’m like, really. It’s that simple, go out and find someone who is hungry and give them some food. And then if that felt pretty good, you know next time make two sandwiches. If we all did something that small we could end a lot of these issues here. People think you need to go through these huge, like permitting processes and we need to create massive organizations and we don’t. The scale can be very small it can be one person helping one person.