Concessionaire using unpaid homeless workers at Tampa sports venues, possibly illegally

And finally, this one really needed to run sometime other than Thanksgiving weekend:

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.

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.

That’s right: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (as well as the Rays and Lightning) have been using indentured servants to run their concessions. (Okay, not quite indentured servants, since these workers can — and do — quit their unpaid jobs and give up their shelter, but still pretty close.) That’s probably a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act — New Beginnings CEO Tom Atchison says the program is modeled on one used by the Salvation Army, but the Salvation Army doesn’t pimp its unpaid workers out to for-profit sports teams to make money — and undeniably skeevy. And it only gets skeevier:

[Victoria] Denton, the other New Beginnings employee who went to the FDLE, said she witnessed Atchison open homeless residents’ mail, take Social Security checks and deposit them in New Beginnings accounts, and use food stamp cards to buy food for himself…

“He would say, ‘They’re drug addicts, they’re alcoholics, they’re just going to spend it on cigarettes and booze,’ ” said Lee Hoffman, the formerly homeless minister who worked for Atchison off and on from 2007 to 2010. “The only way they get any of it is if they complain hard enough.”

Sports stadiums: your job-creation engines, everybody!

6 comments on “Concessionaire using unpaid homeless workers at Tampa sports venues, possibly illegally

  1. As an aside, Florida has some of the best investigative journalists around, if only because of the sheer amount of shady s–t that goes on in this state.

  2. It is also important to note that many arenas and stadiums have similar “charity” concessions that are ostensibly run by Boy Scout troops and other assorted non-profits. Ostensibly these are to raise money for the organization, but many of these positions would likely just be filled by actual adult workers, and not a 12 year throwing a two week old giant pretzel at you.

  3. Don’t hate on New Beginnings. I can’t speak for NB specifically, but when I was a bank teller in Milwaukee a lot of people in a similar program would bring in their disbursement checks to cash. Some people just need help keeping their life straight while they get back on track.

    I also love how the biggest haters are “homeless advocates”. It’s like all the “animal lovers” who want to kill the dogs in the name of being humane.

  4. I’ll actually chime in for two reasons; I am a social worker and I live in Milwaukee. You CAN oversee other people’s Social Security checks in order to ensure they are able to properly manage them. It’s called being a payee, and you have to get approval from SSA to do it by proving that an individual is unable to manage their own money. In fact, many homeless agencies do offer these services. The difference between being a payee and New Beginnings is that one) they have gotten no approval to take these checks (the money is forwarded to the organizational payee directly not in the form of a check) and two if there is no actual payeeship, the SSA has no easy means of auditing your management of the money (theroetically in this case the SSA could open up a fraud investigation, but they would have to get court permission to delve into bank accounts). If the allegations are true then NB is doing something flat out illegal, and no excuse for not taking advantage of organizational payee status.

    Many long-term transitional shelters DO charge rent, and I don’t know what the rent is in Tampa, but 600 seems prohibitively high, especially when one considers the bottom SSI payment is 780. Moreover, there appears to be no sliding scale system in place, though that simply may not be mentioned in the article. Moreover, it’s statements that it provides “treatment” services is nonsense, and also potentially illegal, as people may be holding themselves out as counselors who have no licensing. And again, if they wanted peer supports, there is a means of becoming certified to do that as well though I don’t know the specifics on regulation in Florida.

    I understand, from your comment history the desire to defend anyone Neil picks on, but in this case NB is not only flat out doing illegal things, it’s not even using the best practices that other agencies routinely use. At best they are a poorly managed agency that is in way over it’s head, and at worst they are a scam.

  5. A friend of mine used to work at the volunteer concession stands at Sacramento Kings games, and it sounded really shady to me. The Kings got a tax writeoff for making a donation to charity, and didn’t have to pay any pesky employees minimum wage.

    It was such a huge win-win for the Kings that I actually talked my friend into no longer doing it. I think the Kings kept 93% of the profits — not the revenues, but the actual profits — and the charity got the rest. So 6 volunteers would work for 3 hours, and make paltry amounts for their charity. Everyone would go home and say, “Gee, is that all we get?”. Car-washes did better.

  6. The Oilers have their 50/50 draw every game. When they used to dispers pre-printed tickets they gave 50% to the winner, 25% to their charity and 25% to the charity that helped. Usually this was a $30k/15k/15k payout structure.

    When they got their current automated system that prints tickets st point of sale (courtesy of WJC 2012; a term for “allowing” WJC officials to use the system in Rexall Place) they now have a cap on how much the participating charity can keep. $15K. Yet now the tickets purchased is around $120K. Oilers collect $45K.