From left, Jason King, Meghan Lords, Michael Kimbrel and Adam Richard are photographed at the Bitcoin Homeless Outreach Center where they store food and supplies for Sean's Outpost Pensacola homeless outreach.
Pensacola, Florida (PNJ) -- While many parents spend their weekday mornings getting their
children on the school bus and heading off to work, 34-year-old Jason
King uses the hours before noon to prepare more than 100 sack lunches.
lunches aren't for the former network engineer and Army veteran's three
children. They are specially made for Escambia County's homeless, and
King, along with a handful of volunteers, has handed out more than
27,000 of the meals since March.
That's right: 27,000 sack lunches.
is the founder of Sean's Outpost, a Pensacola homeless outreach center
named after King's friend, Sean Dugas, a former Pensacola News Journal reporter who was a homicide victim in 2012. Remarkably, Sean's Outpost
has consistently hand-delivered meals to the homeless since March with
barely more than a $1,000 in cash donations.
cash, the organization also receives donations in bitcoins, a
peer-to-peer currency that is traded online, stored on computers and can
be bought and sold with real money. The value of bitcoins has
skyrocketed this year, rising above $1,200 per bitcoin on some exchanges
said Sean's Outpost sells its bitcoin donations to local buyers for
U.S. dollars or uses them to buy digital gift cards. King and volunteers
then use the money or gift cards to pay for the sack lunches. The
modest contents are deeply appreciated.
day last week, scores of homeless people received a brown bag
containing bologna on white bread, barbecue-flavoresd potato chips and a
strawberry flavored Nutri-Grain breakfast bar. When King arrived at his
first lunch delivery, Wayside Park in Pensacola at the base of the
Pensacola Bay Bridge, there were already three homeless people waiting
Among the group was Mari, a petite 46-year-old woman wrapped in a scarf, jacket and matching red sweatpants and sweater.
said she lost her job after being arrested for driving under the
influence in Gulf Breeze. Unable to find work with a criminal record,
Mari said she was out on the streets by May.
Mari now says she lives at Wayside Park. Despite claiming to have a
"million dollar view where I can afford the rent," Mari's life is far
from a paradise.
"There are times when I
have nothing to eat. Look how skinny I am," she said, pulling on her
loose-fitting garments. "If I didn't have (Sean's Outpost), I'd probably
pass away. Wherever I go, they find me."
Sean's Outpost volunteers hand out lunches to the homeless on
Pensacola's streets and at makeshift campsites all the way up to
Brentwood Park in Escambia County. Over the course of their five-day
week, they serve about 1,000 meals, King said.
has allowed the direct action charity to easily and instantly acquire
international funding. Sean's Outpost has received donations from more
than 40 countries, all of which King said he plans to invest locally.
Outpost has received more than 200 bitcoins, he said, but it's
difficult to equate that to a solid dollar amount because the value of
bitcoins has fluctuated widely this year.
King received his first donation in March, exchanges valued a single
bitcoin at about $50. By November, that value had skyrocketed to more
On Tuesday, a bitcoin had a value of about $640.
even more intriguing than the number of bitcoins Sean's Outpost has
received is how little King has to do to attract donors. Bitcoin
enthusiasts do most of the solicitation by discussing the outreach
center on Internet forums and blogs.
December, users of Reddit, an entertainment website, raised money to
fund an "Angel Tree" style project that Sean's Outpost hosted. In the
span of a few hours, about 50 gifts for the homeless were paid for by
such strong support, Seans Outpost's staff of less than 10 people is
able to direct virtually all of its focus on preparing food,
distributing meals and documenting its work to post online. It's a
transparent, 21st century, perpetual-motion charity paradigm that King
said he hopes will catch on.
we're out hustling to make a dollar. We're not feeding people because
that takes time and effort and mental bandwidth away from you," King
said. "When you give us a bitcoin, we show you what happens to it.
Because of that, we've never really had to ask for the support."
Gambling on bitcoins
Sean's Outpost serendipitous marriage to bitcoin was set in motion by a
flippant Internet wager King made in March.
February, King and his wife began volunteering at a weekly homeless
feeding event near the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen. At the time, they
were only volunteering under the name Sean's Outpost and weren't
planning to start their own charity.
in March, during a discussion on Reddit about whether a digital
currency could have any real value, King claimed he could feed 40
homeless people if someone sent him a single bitcoin, which was valued
at about $50 at the time.
received more than 10 bitcoins in less than 12 hours. Before a day had
passed, he was in the streets handing out sack lunches paid for with the
donations. He posted photos proving he had used the donations to feed
the homeless back on Reddit.
"That just resonated really well with the (online) community and they have not stopped supporting us," King said.
organization's largest donation came in December. An Auburn, Ala.,
resident and Reddit user donated 11 bitcoins, which were valued at about
$1,050 each at the time, to the outreach center. King said the donation
created an endowment fund for 2014.
Despite the rapid influx of money, the Sean's Outpost's setup has remained humble.
drinks and other supplies are kept in a tiny storage facility known as
the Bitcoin Homeless Outreach Center on Old Palafox Highway. Meals are
prepared assembly-line style every morning inside an old church building
owned by the outreach center's attorney.
Sean's Outpost buys supplies on a need-to-distribute basis and the
price of bitcoin continues to fluctuate, the charity's financial
security is not certain. However, King doesn't envision Sean's Outpost
having to switch to cash donations anytime soon.
believe in bitcoin, and we believe the value is going to go up," King
said. "Sean's Outpost is inseparable from bitcoin. We are one and the
bitcoin activists from Austin, Texas, Toronto and Barcelona, Spain, are
inquiring about starting their own Sean's Outpost charter, King said.
It's an opportunity to make helping the homeless become viral.
"We're documenting a better way of doing homeless outreach," King
said. "We can pass that information on to another group of people who
want to help people in their area."
Filling a need
The advent of Sean's Outpost has seen particularly good timing, statistically speaking.
2013, the EscaRosa Coalition on Homeless counted 830 homeless living on
the street or in emergency housing in Escambia County, a six-year high.
In 2012, only 572 homeless were counted in the survey.
even the larger, most recent number doesn't account for all the
homeless living in Escambia County, King said. Many homeless are
unwilling to come forward to be counted.
"What they report and what we see are completely different," he said.
only 253 emergency beds available to the homeless in Escambia County,
according to the EscaRosa Coalition on Homeless, a majority of the
homeless are living exposed to the elements this winter.
And for a homeless person in Pensacola, the political wind blowing from City Hall nowadays is even colder.
May, the Pensacola City Council approved a series of controversial
ordinances that banned camping on city-owned and residential property
and prevented anyone from sleeping, bathing and shaving in public
restrooms. "Camping" in the ordinances included sleeping outdoors in a
tent or sleeping bag, covered with a newspaper or cardboard, or inside
any kind of temporary shelter.
Outpost is now providing a camping spot in Escambia County for homeless
folks who fear being cited by Pensacola police under the ordinance.
July, Sean's Outpost acquired Satoshi Forest, a 9-acre undeveloped
property in West Pensacola named after the pseudonym taken by the
anonymous creator of the bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. King pays the
privately held mortgage in bitcoin has labeled the property a homeless
wants Satoshi Forest to become sustainable by utilizing permaculture,
aquaponics and forest gardening, and by creating a kitchen area. King
said he envisions paying the homeless in bitcoins to build their own
portable small homes situated on trailer hitches.
Dubbed BitHouses, the tiny shelters on wheels are actually classified
as recreational vehicles and take about three weeks and $7,500 to make.
The structures can provide shelter for three people. They're wired for
electricity and will be outfitted with solar panels, King said.
big part of our vision is to build something sustainable," he said. "It
would be amazing if we were growing enough food to feed all the
homeless we serve."
Escambia County doesn't share King's enthusiasm. On Dec. 3, the
county's Office of Environmental Enforcement cited Sean's Outpost for
allowing tent camping, accumulation of trash, nuisance conditions and
for keeping a BitHouse on the property as a storage building.
said the violations have since been dropped, but code enforcement has
said no one can camp in Satoshi Forest until King appears before the
county planning board.
County Public Information Officer Bill Pearson said a representative
from Sean's Outpost has met with a code enforcement officer and a member
of the county Planning and Zoning Division concerning a rezoning or
variance of the property.
from Escambia County Environmental Code Enforcement still show the case
as open. The case will be reviewed again in January by the county.
have even gone so far as to go out and tell homeless to vacate," King
said. "We will not evict anyone from our land. Period."
the homeless living at Satoshi Forest is a man who calls himself
"Swampy." He said he spends about 30 hours a week clearing debris from
the Satoshi Forest to help make campsites and paths for other homeless.
said Satoshi Forest will not only provide the homeless a place to live,
but a mailing address, which seems trivial but is infinitely important.
Without a mailing address, it's nearly impossible apply for any type of
government aid, or more importantly, a job, he said.
is exactly what the homeless need," he said. "Give them a sanctuary
like this. Let them go out and make it on their own. This is the only
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