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Waiting It Out in Satoshi Forest

by Jeremy Morrison

It’s unclear what August will bring to Satoshi Forest, a patch of Escambia County land that currently serves as a homesite for otherwise homeless individuals. Mike Kimberl knows that ultimately the county could ask people to vacate the property.
“Unfortunately, I will refuse to do that. I’m not kicking anyone off the property,” Kimberl said last week, a day before an Environmental Special Magistrate heard the county’s code violation case against the site.
Satoshi Forest, a 9-acre site run by local homeless outreach organization Sean’s Outpost, has been at odds with Escambia County for two years. Most recently, Kimberl — a co-founder of the organization who handles its day-to-day affairs — finds himself fending off a code violation pertaining to the use of tents on the property, while also working with the county’s planning staff and Development Review Board in an attempt to satisfy various requests that could serve to bring the property into compliance.
“I’m kind of where I don’t even know what to expect,” Kimberl said.

Mike Kimberl, of Sean’s Outpost, and attorney William Dunaway listen to Escambia County Special Magistrate Robert Beasley during the July 27 hearing.

The code violation before the special magistrate cites the use of tents, or temporary structures, as living quarters on the property. Escambia County has a 14-days per year limit on the use of such structures. Special Magistrate Robert Beasley — having already granted two continuances in the case — indicated last week that he will make a decision on that matter soon, determining if the violation is accurate and, “if so, whether or not a remedy can be effected, or should be effected by the special magistrate.”
Separately, the county has provided a list of improvements that must be made to the property to bring it otherwise in line with regulations. Those improvements include building a road and creating a stormwater retention pond, and are considered prohibitively expensive by Kimberl.
“Our opinion is that they are basically trying to break us, whether it being financially, or tired of dealing with the bureaucracy,” Kimberl said. “That’s why I think these are tactics that are designed to keep us from doing what we’re doing.”

Staff from Escambia’s code enforcement and planning department testified at the Sean’s Outpost hearing regarding Satoshi Forest.

What Sean’s Outpost does at Satoshi Forest is attempt to provide a safe place for the area’s homeless to set up camp. Individuals wishing to stay on site must pass a screening and agree not to use drugs or engage in violent behavior.
“If they just choose to be homeless, they’re not going to be a high priority,” explained Kimberl, “because I’m trying to help people not be homeless.”
Currently about 15 people reside on the Sean’s Outpost property. Kimberl views the property as a piece of the puzzle in dealing with the area’s homeless issue, where the number of people without homes outnumbers the number of available beds in shelters.
This effort at Satoshi Forest, however, has met resistance from the county as well as nearby property owners. Some of those property owners spoke during the July 27 magistrate hearing. They verified the county’s claims of tents on the property, and added their own personal observations.
Richard Grimes, who’s property backs up to the Satoshi site, complained of tarps strung from trees, not being able to let his dogs out and the “constant burning” done on the property.
“You see them coming and going through the neighborhood all the time,” Grimes told the magistrate. “I would love to clear the property, but I don’t want to look at the tents and the port-a-johns.”
Kimberl and his attorney, William Dunaway, downplayed such concerns, and instead argued that permitting of the property did not fall under the county (as camping facilities fall to the state to permit), and that the improvements being requested — access, safety and stormwater improvements —were unneeded because there was no development taking place on the property.
“We don’t need to do anything because we’re not doing anything,” is how Dunaway put it.
The special magistrate is slated to deliver a decision regarding Satoshi Forest by Aug. 12. Kimberl said that a decision to impose fines related to either a code violation or requested improvements would likely “bankrupt” him, but he showed little appetite to pack it in.
“I have every intention of being out there singing “Kumbaya” if they drag us off the property,” Kimberl said.

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