November 30, 2014 2:13 PM Subscribe
Tampa homeless program uses unpaid, destitute residents as steady labor force, revenue source
TAMPA — Before every Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game, dozens of men gather in the yard at New Beginnings of Tampa, one of the city's largest homeless programs.More coverage from Deadspin:
The men — many of them recovering alcoholics and drug addicts — are about to work a concessions stand behind Raymond James Stadium's iconic pirate ship, serving beer and food to football fans. First, a supervisor for New Beginnings tries to pump them up.
"Thank God we have these events," he tells them. "They bring in the prime finances."
But not for the workers. They leave the game sweat-soaked and as penniless as they arrived. The money for their labor goes to New Beginnings. The men receive only shelter and food.
For years, New Beginnings founder and CEO Tom Atchison has sent his unpaid homeless labor crews to Tampa Bay Rays, Lightning and Bucs games, the Daytona 500 and the Florida State Fair. For their shelter, he's had homeless people work in construction, landscaping, telemarketing, moving, painting, even grant-writing.
Now Atchison is applying to run Hillsborough County's new homeless shelter, a contract worth millions of public dollars that would entrust him with the county's most vulnerable people.
Reporter Will Hobson's investigation found the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, and Daytona 500 all employed labor from the New Beginnings ministry in a system the New Beginnings CEO calls "work therapy" but labor investigators call "indentured servitude." The money earned working the concession stands, the Times reports, goes directly to New Beginnings, which provides the men with shelter and food; in total, New Beginnings brought in $932,816 in income last year.
Most of the men are homeless, destitute, and drug or alcohol addicts. Workers told the Times that New Beginnings confiscated their Social Security checks and food stamps and that while the organization claims to provide counseling, it employs no one with training to treat drug addicts or the mentally ill. One of the organization's chief ministers cited as qualification that "he ran a motorcycle gang."
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