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Dec
2014
3

Homeless People, Recovering Addicts Working Tampa Bay Bucs, Rays, Lightning Games Unpaid

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New Beginnings CEO Tom Atchison says he offers addicts and the homeless who depend on his organization “work therapy.”  Others argue he is running a well-oiled machine of exploitative, unpaid labor around the Tampa Bay area.  His practices may be illegal, yet at every Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game his army of unpaid homeless workers serve concessions behind the giant Pirate ship at Raymond James Stadium.  Atchison also provides labor for Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning games, as well as the Daytona 500 and the Florida State Fair.  

Now, Atchison is in talks to run Hillsborough County’s newest homeless shelter, a contract that could bring him millions and provide him with a new source of labor to ensure his organization rakes in the bucks while gainlessly employing the penniless.

The Tampa Bay Times published a feature over the weekend that looked into thousands of pages of public records showing the extent of New Beginnings’ exploitation.  Hopefully the exposé will convince the powers that be to stop Atchison before he makes millions off his new brigade.  

The Tampa Bay Times’ findings include:

Employees and residents said Atchison took residents’ Social Security checks and food stamps, even if they amounted to more than residents owed in program costs.

• A New Beginnings contractor told the Times he overbilled the state for at least $80,000 of grant money, then gave the money to the program instead of returning it.

• While claiming to provide counseling, New Beginnings employs no one clinically trained to work with addicts or the mentally ill. One minister cited his experience running a motorcycle gang as his top qualification. The Times couldn’t verify the doctorate in theology Atchison said he earned from a defunct online school.

Atchison supplied a weak self-defense, saying:

“Because of what we do at those games, we can afford to take guys off the street who have nothing and give them the opportunity to work and get their lives back together,” Atchison said. “We take the guys no one else does.”

A former New Beginnings minister sees it otherwise, though. “It needs to stop,” he told the Times.  “There are a bunch of homeless people who are being exploited.”

Times author Will Hobson reveals the claims of many of New Beginnings’ current and former residents. They say Atchison has done everything from steal their food stamps to cash their social security checks to get them to pay their rent.  The rates do not appear to be that favorable either, at $150/week or $600/month. 

Of course not everyone can pay, so the sporting events shifts become necessary to stay in New Beginnings, which provides social services and maintains a drug-free environment.  

Keith King, chief legal officer of Tampa Bay Rays concessionaire Center Plate, told the Times that he was unaware the homeless men were working for their room and board.  

“We are deeply concerned and have begun a close review of the partnership in question.”  In its contracts with charities, King wrote, Center Plate prohibits sending volunteers “dependent upon the charity for food, clothing, shelter … or any other necessities of life.”

Atchison says he models his program after the controversial methods of the Salvation Army.  Labor lawyers interviewed by Times said it is permissible for companies to compensate employees with shelter and food if accurate records, including hours worked are kept.  New Beginnings does not keep records of the workers hours. 

Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel for the National Employment Law Project (NELP) called the operation “outrageous.”

“These workers are doing a job,” she told the Times. “They need to be treated with dignity.”

Read Hobson’s entire, revelatory piece here.

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