Christian Homeless Shelter Program Makes Residents Work For Free, Takes Social Security And Food Stamps (VIDEO)

New Beginnings is a Christian-based program in Tampa, Florida that is supposed to help homeless people who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, or both, get clean and get back on their feet in order to live more productive lives free of substance abuse. Sounds good, right? Well, in this case, not so much. “The Raw Story” reports that the Tampa Bay Times conducted an investigation into the program and the man behind it, CEO Tom Atchison, and made some shocking discoveries.

Image Credit, The Raw Story, YouTube screen grab

Image Credit: The Raw Story/YouTube screen grab

Apparently, Atchison is exploiting his destitute, desperate residents at his shelters for free labor. He calls what he does “work therapy,” and gives his residents to local businesses and events. The residents never see so much as a dime of the wages earned at these jobs, and they are never told how much their work is worth. Advocates for these vulnerable members of society say that Atchison’s so-called “work therapy” is not therapy at all, but a way to exploit people who have nowhere else to turn. These advocates have even gone so far as to call what Atchison does “indentured servitude.”

It also gets worse, as Atchison is currently trying to take control of Hillsborough County’s newest homeless shelter to the tune of millions in taxpayer money.

Atchison, of course, defended sending his residents to work for free at concession stands at games played by local sports teams. He says:

“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. We take the guys no one else does.”

While this may be true, the evidence show that Atchison is still not following labor laws with what he is doing. Labor lawyers who know about this program and Atchison’s “work therapy” say that while employers are allowed to compensate workers with food, room, and board, all hours and pay must meet federal minimum wage standards, and it must be documented. Neither is true of what Atchison does at New Beginnings. There is no documentation, and further, the $600 per month (or $150 per week) that the program costs isn’t all he is taking from some people, former residents claim. Some say he even took food stamps and social security checks, and other forms of income from the residents.

Lee Hoffman, who is now a minister, but was once a New Beginnings resident, says:

“It needs to stop. There are a bunch of homeless people who are being exploited. He would say, ‘They’re drug addicts, they’re alcoholics, they’re just going to spend it on cigarettes and booze. The only way they get any of it is if they complain hard enough.'”

Victoria Denton, who once worked at New Beginnings says of incoming checks:

“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.”

Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, says of the obviously predatory relationship between Atchison and his residents:

“People who are homeless are desperate. It’s not an equal, typical relationship between a landlord and a tenant. . . . It should err on the side of protecting the homeless people who are more vulnerable in the relationship, and making sure their rights are preserved.”

She is right, of course. Further, there is more evidence that Atchison is a charlatan and an exploitative opportunist, as  he supposedly has a theology degree, but it came from an online diploma mill that is no longer operational. Beyond that, even, last I checked, Christians are supposed to help the downtrodden and destitute, not take advantage of them. That is neither here nor there, though. What Atchison is doing is despicable, and perhaps even criminal. He needs to be stopped.

Watch a video of Atchison trying to explain what he does below:

h/t: The Raw Story