Skills-Building And Rehabilitation, Or Slave Labor? Homeless Program In Tampa Puts Destitute People To Work For No Pay

Fans lining up for beer, burgers, and other concessions at a stand behind the famed Pirate Ship at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium — home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — may not know that the men working behind the counter are homeless. They are even less likely to know that those homeless men working the concession stand are not getting paid so much as a dime for their work.

For years, says the Tampa Bay Times, the New Beginnings homeless shelter has sent crews to work at Tampa Bay Buccaneers games — as well as Tampa Bay Rays, Lightning, and Bucs games, the Florida State Fair, and the Daytona 500 — all without the men getting paid. Instead, the money goes directly to New Beginnings.

New Beginngs director Tom Atchison — PT, for “Pastor Tom,” as the men in his program call him — believes the unpaid work provides men transitioning from homelessness with job skills, structure, and confidence. They “earn” money by doing concession-stand work, as well as construction, painting, telemarketing — even grant writing, money which goes directly to New Beginnings, which Atchison says the homeless shelter needs to cover overhead costs.

Whether Pastor Tom is a tireless evangelist working to elevate the homeless from their plight, or a charlatan taking advantage of slave labor and lax government oversight, is largely a matter of perspective.

A Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed several data points that suggest that New Beginnings may not be above-board. For example: Despite claiming to offer counseling, no one in the employ of New Beginnings is clinically trained in working with addicts or the mentally ill.

Most telling, however, is New Beginnings’ practice of confiscating the public entitlements — that is, Social Security checks and food stamp allotments — of men who enter the program. Former New Beginnings employee Victoria Denton said, via Bucs Nation, that every last check goes straight to Pastor Tom’s account.

“I don’t lie. What I saw was wrong. If a check comes in, it doesn’t matter if it’s your name, my name, or Timbuktu’s name, it’s going in his (Atchison’s) name.”

Still, others swear by New Beginnings and their programs. Tim Marks, CEO of Metropolitan Ministries — a homeless advocacy group — has worked closely with New Beginnings and Pastor Tom.

“Their hearts truly seem to be in the right place.”

Do you believe that being made to work in exchange for food and shelter is a good way to elevate Tampa Bay’s homeless population, or is it simply slave labor?

[Image courtesy of: Tampa Bay Times]