New Beginnings pastor Tom Atchison defends program against forced labor accusations

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Pastor Tom Atchison went before the Hillsborough County Commission Tuesday, and read from a Tampa Bay Times article released earlier this week.

“Critics say it’s indentured servitude,” Atchison read.

The article criticizes the founder and CEO of New Beginnings of Tampa, saying it uses homeless people for labor without paying them.

“It’s completely full of lies. Every bit of it. Even the financial stuff he’s writing,” Atchison said about the article. “Well, he said, we don’t pay them. We do.”

Anthony Cubbage is a former homeless person who has been staying at New Beginnings. He said he loves working the Bucs games.

“For myself, for the help that they’ve given me for the eight months that I’ve been here, I feel that I’m giving back helping them out,” Cubbage said.

However, the organization does get paid money for those homeless people who work those games. So where does that money go?

“We save that money for them until they’re ready to handle it. Most people have been on drugs or alcohol. That’s like putting a loaded gun in their hand. That’s too tempting for them, so we save that money for them and give it to them when they leave,” Atchison explained.

The handling of those funds have raised red flags. The county said New Beginnings doesn’t have transparent accounting practices when it comes to collecting and redistributing money to its clients.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner wrote a letter to Representative Kathy Castor and Senator Bill Nelson, calling for a federal investigation.

“Stop the nonsense, please!” Pastor Tom told the county commission.

Dozens of supporters filled the meeting.

“This place saved my life,” Dakodah Howells said at the hearing, as he wiped away tears.

“Just look at what they do for you. You have a place to lay your head every night, food in your mouth. They help you with anything. Teach you how to budget, how to take classes, even a simple conversation, you have something on your mind, any one of them will help you,” Howells said.

However, other former clients told the Tampa Bay Times they were forced to work without pay.

Atchison explained said that’s not surprising.

“When you put them out of the program for breaking the rules or using drugs, the first thing they’re going to do, they’re going to blame everybody but themselves,” he said.

New Beginnings’ mission is to help the homeless get back on their feet. Now they’re just hoping they can do the same.

“I just want to get this past us, get these people to stop this insanity against us and get on with the mission of helping people,” Atchison said.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner was in Washington, D.C. and unavailable for comment. There’s still no word on whether there will be a federal investigation into the case.


Original story: Posted: Dec 03, 2014 7:04 PM ESTUpdated: Dec 03, 2014 7:04 PM EST

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