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Homeless camp under fire from county, neighbors

ESCAMBIA COUNTY   --  A campground for the homeless is under fire from neighbors and Escambia County leaders. They say it's a dangerous eyesore and that its owners have committed several code violations.

The property is owned by a non-profit group and sits on nine acres of land near Massachusetts Avenue and Fennel Street in the Mayfair community.

Around a dozen people now live at the camp, which comes equipped with a porta-potty, a dumpster and happens to sit near several homes.

"It's unsafe and what is it gonna do to our property values?" asked Richard Grimes, who lives in one of those homes with his four year-old son.

"We've had 'em come to my fence and talk to my grandchildren and my son, ask 'em their names, how old they are, what they like to do," Grimes said.
   
Grimes has gathered more than 140 signatures on a petition aimed at having the camp removed. He and around a dozen neighbors showed up at a county commission meeting last week to voice their opposition.

"They come and go," Grimes said, "I've seen 'em at night roamin' the alley looking at people's yards. There's open fires almost every day and every night."
   
The property was bought by a non-profit group called Sean's Outpost last July.

Jason King, the group's founder, said, "We're in the permitting process of actually making this into an official campground."

King says the camp serves a crucial need because there aren't enough beds at local shelters and because of recent laws cracking down on the homeless. He says after some media reports in November, several people started camping out on the property before the group was were ready for them.

"People started moving in, we started clearing brush out," King said, "We removed almost two tons of debris that had been dumped here."
   
King says his organization runs on private donations made with Bitcoins on the Internet.

He says his group has already addressed some of the code violations by removing trash, for example, and is in the process of filing for a permit to allow a campground on the property.

A special magistrate hearing on the alleged code violations will be held by the county on Tuesday. The owners of the property say they'll ask for more time to respond to the citations.