A Tampa Bay, Florida, homeless program has become the center of a controversy over unpaid labor at local events. At the New Beginnings of Tampa, one of the city’s largest homeless programs, the recovering alcoholics and drug addicts work jobs around the city in exchange for shelter and food, but receive no salary.
The Tampa Bay Times reported some of the tasks the men do include working concessions at Raymond James Stadium during Tampa Bay Buccaneers games. New Beginnings also facilitates jobs in construction, landscaping, telemarketing and painting for the people in their program, but workers never see a penny of the payments made to the homeless shelter.
“Thank God we have these events,” a New Beginnings supervisor said ahead of a Buccaneers game. “They bring in the prime finances.”
Advocates for the homeless people and labor rights lawyers are saying the labor provided by New Beginnings residents without compensation is exploitative and illegal. The investigation by the Tampa Bay Times into public records, bank statements and other documents found the program had been keeping extra money from shelter residents and from the state instead of returning it.
New Beginnings founder and CEO Tom Atchison reportedly took residents’ Social Security checks and food stamps “even if they amounted to more than residents owed in program costs” and failed to return the difference.
At the same time the investigation found New Beginnings was advertising more services than it provides. “While claiming to provide counseling, New Beginnings employs no one clinically trained to work with addicts or the mentally ill,” the report said.
As for Atchison, he allegedly earns $18,000 a year though his salary is not listed on official documents. However, Atchison, who also works as a pastor, receives a separate salary from the New Life Pentecostal Church in North Tampa.
While the investigation raises questions about the New Beginnings operation, many have good things to say about Atchison's work. The NHL Tampa Bay Lightning named Atchison a “community hero” in 2013, honoring him mid-game and donating $50,000 to the shelter.