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Wednesday, Dec 19, 2018
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New Beginnings ‘weathers the storm’

At the start of 2015 the future looked anything but bright for New Beginnings of Tampa, a nonprofit faith-based transitional housing program for homeless adults ages 18 and older.

The organization founded 16 years ago serves close to 200 residents in various housing facilities in the North Tampa area.

Last November a story by another media outlet accused it of exploiting the homeless and operating in violation of labor laws.

The residents at New Beginnings who had been under contract with Aramark soon lost their concession jobs during the Bucs games at Raymond James Stadium when the company withdrew its arrangement due to the negative press.

Another major blow came in early December when the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and Clinic suspended referrals to New Beginnings because of the news articles. It included referrals through its 15-bed contract program. The Department of Veterans Affairs also said it would work toward relocating those veterans already assigned to the New Beginnings program.

An extensive federal investigation followed, and in late February, New Beginnings founder and CEO Tom Atchison received a letter from the U. S. Department of Labor exonerating him and the program of the alleged wrongdoings.

“This whole thing hurt us temporarily but we weathered the storm and it made us even stronger,” said Atchison, who is also pastor of New Life Pentecostal Church in North Tampa.

With the turbulence behind him, his focus is on the bright days ahead.

All Team Staffing, a temporary help agency, has replaced Aramark in hiring the organization’s residents for concession jobs at Raymond James Stadium, and according to Atchison, the company has offered more work positions than New Beginnings has men to fill.

In addition, the VA National Center on Homelessness among Veterans recently awarded New Beginnings an eight-month Safe Haven contract administered through the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital.

The Safe Haven program will provide funding to house 10 chronically homeless veterans with mental illness and substance abuse issues in a low-demand, nonintrusive environment at New Beginnings.

It’s designed to engage the homeless veterans in treatment services and eventually get them into permanent housing.

“No veteran should be without a place to call home and the VA is committed to ending homelessness among veterans,” said James A. Haley spokeswoman Karen Collins.

Atchison is ecstatic about the Safe Haven contract, which he believes will be successful and likely renewed.

“That grant (contract) will allow us to be a much better organization,” he said. “It’s going to benefit everything we do at New Beginnings.”

It requires using licensed health care providers, including a registered nurse whom he recently brought on board. He also is in the process of hiring a social worker, a position that requires a person with a master’s degree in counseling.

In addition, two of the buildings at its East Chilkoot Avenue complex are undergoing extensive renovations that include bringing them up to ADA standards. New Beginnings has already met all the VA’s safety requirements.

“This all means that we can take in vets, including women, (who) really need help,” Atchison said.

The Safe Haven program at New Beginnings is one of just 22 such programs in the nation.

“We got the contract because of our 10-year track record,” Atchison said. “Ninety percent of our residents are placed in permanent housing.”

Joyce McKenzie can be reached at joycecmck[email protected]

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