This Is Class Warfare

[Content Note: Exploitation; classism.]

According to conservatives, "class warfare" is any suggestion that rich people should contribute a little more so that the most vulnerable among us can struggle a little less. "Wealth redistribution," they call it. And they disgorge garbage narratives about takers and moochers who scammers who exploit the system.

All of this is projection. Wealth is being redistributed upwards, not the other way around. Economic warfare is being waged against the lower classes. And it is wealthy people who are found to be, over and over, the laziest, greediest, most opportunistic moochers who exploit the system, with proficiency and profligacy about which poor would-be swindlers can only dream.

Case in point: The Tampa Bay Times has published a scathing investigative report on New Beginnings of Tampa, one of the Florida city's largest programs serving homeless people, which sends participants to work concessions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers home games, among other jobs: "For years, New Beginnings founder and CEO Tom Atchison has sent his unpaid homeless labor crews to Tampa Bay Rays, Lightning and Bucs games, the Daytona 500 and the Florida State Fair. For their shelter, he's had homeless people work in construction, landscaping, telemarketing, moving, painting, even grant-writing."
Atchison calls it "work therapy." Homeless advocates and labor lawyers call it exploitative, and possibly illegal.

...The Times reviewed thousands of pages of public records about New Beginnings, including police reports, bank statements, grant documents and court proceedings, and interviewed more than 20 current and former New Beginnings residents and employees. Among the findings:

• 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.

..."It needs to stop," said Lee Hoffman, a former New Beginnings resident and minister. "There are a bunch of homeless people who are being exploited."

...New Beginnings charges its residents who can pay $150 a week, or $600 a month, which covers rent and three meals per day. Those without money work to cover their costs. Residents also agree to drug testing, curfews and sober living.

Metropolitan Ministries, the county's largest nonprofit assisting the homeless, has worked for years with New Beginnings.

"Their hearts truly seem to be in the right place," said Tim Marks, Metropolitan Ministries president and CEO.
Oh, well, if their hearts are in the right place, then case closed.

Except for how their hearts are in a place that considers homeless people their "property."
"When they come in the program — this sounds a bit bad — they become our property to help us help them become new people," said Anthony Raburn, a minister who works with Atchison. "There are expenses that go along with that."
No, Mr. Raburn. That doesn't sound a bit bad. It sounds a lot bad.

And this sure doesn't sound any better:
New Beginnings is one of three agencies applying to run Hillsborough County's proposed homeless shelter, a contract potentially worth $1.6 million annually. The competition includes the Salvation Army and DACCO, a facility that treats people with substance abuse problems and mental illness.

If New Beginnings gets the shelter contract, and some other grants, Atchison wants to increase his salary.

"I should be making $100,000-plus a year," he said. "And not apologizing for it. I deserve it."
He deserves a $100,000 annual salary for running a program that makes people indentured servants. Neat.

Now, as you know, I believe people deserve to be paid for their work. I'm not saying Atchison should do this work for free. Well, he shouldn't be doing this work at all, because it's grossly exploitative. But even if he were running a solid, decent program, $100,000 annually is more than double the median household income for the area.

And he isn't running a solid, decent program. He's running one in which people aren't being paid for the work that they're doing.
"This is outrageous," said Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel for the National Employment Law Project, a labor advocacy group. "These workers are doing a job. They need to be treated with dignity."

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