July 22, 2014


Three strike laws are statutes enacted by state governments to deter recidivism. They basically increase penalties on habitual offenders or career criminals so as to dissuade such career paths or habits. While these statues are predominately issued to give life sentences to repeat first degree felons, or more decades to second and third degree felons, the logic of the system has worked its way down to quite petty offenses. This can make way for unfortunate rulings against 'crimes' associated with the condition of being homeless at the city or county levels.

The last post on our blog, written by Kineci, told of one such situation for a friend of ours who lives on the streets in Tampa. He has been arrested many times for trespassing. Trespassing and loitering become a perpetual state for many on the streets because they have nowhere to go. (which, BTW, is precisely why the Well is determined to create an oasis of hospitality) Our friend was trying to leave town because he knew the next arrest would mean a more severe punishment. He never made it out of town (which never really was a great solution anyway) and was arrested on Saturday. Now he is facing much more significant jail time because he is a 'habitual' offender. You see he is chronically homeless.

Many years ago our society ran asylums where they would put people that were considered mentally ill. These hospitals were heavily criticized as they were often very poorly kept up, understaffed and filled with very difficult individuals. After some exposure of the conditions of these places, where entire segments of the population were segregated, there was much demand for deinstitutionalization.  Under Ronald Reagan the call was made that these asylums be closed, and they were.  While it is not hard to praise the end of such horrific conditions for some of our societies most vulnerable people it is sometimes hard to take a sober look at how such moves have played out in our cities.

Deinstitutionalization basically flushed these mental hospitals out into our streets. The idea was that within our communities folks with mental disabilities could live less isolated lives and find local community mental health services to assist when needed. What we ended up having in many of our cities is an open asylum where those who needed such hospitalization or care are left to wander the streets alone. We do have many mental health services in Tampa, though you are seen, assessed, and turned out almost immediately. There is no place to stay and be safe, which is precisely what so many with paranoia and anxiety need.

Where we once hospitalized we now criminalize. Where once people were put in institutions run by nurses and doctors they are now ending up in institutions run by police and wardens. While deinstitutionalization was a move made for humanitarian reasons (giving the benefit of the doubt) it never served society or those that needed the help. What we are seeing now is some kind of twisted repentance or undoing of deistitutionalization. What we are seeing today is the reinstitutionalization of our most vulnerable. Though now they are not in poorly kept hospitals but highly profitable penal institutions.

I assure you, we are not better off.

July 14, 2014

To Sleep or Not to Sleep

I recently had a memorable discussion with a visitor at the Free Market. Before going into detail about what we discussed, I'd first like to say that sometimes the staff of the Free Market have to take the stories we hear at face value. We are not always able to validate the situations that are told to us, and I do not believe that it is up to us to do so. We have a certain level of trust and respect for our visitors and can be assured that there is some truth to the things that are told to us.

This guest asked me to look up the price for a round trip bus ticket. As I did so, I asked him if there was a situation. Due to his fourth citation and third time being arrested for trespassing, he was looking at the prospect of between 6 months and a year in jail. My first thought was, "ok….you were trespassing and were probably doing something you weren’t suppose to do." Why else would the police pick on him, right? He further explained that these citations were issued because of where he was sleeping. 

It turns out that he's homeless, and has no family or close friends to room with. He tells me the shelters are no safer than sleeping on the street, so he picks a spot that he considers to be safe enough to sleep and tries to steer clear of private property and inner city buildings. There are supposed to be green flyers posted in places where the homeless are prohibited from sleeping or hanging about, he tells me, and yet most of these flyers are no where to be seen. Even when no notice is posted, the first trespass is a written warning and other violations after that is 30 days in county jail. 

As I looked at his his face and listened to his story, I realized I had no words to respond. I consider myself an intelligent individual, and yet I could not find a good enough excuse to explain away what had happened to him. There simply wasn’t one. It’s absurd, it’s unfair, and it’s so hard to accept that stuff like this happens to people all the time. 

His public defender informed him, “Well at least when you're serving your jail time, you won’t be homeless.” Of course, his response was that even with guaranteed meals, clothing and a bed to sleep in, none of it was worth losing his freedom. For the crime of sleeping, the comfort of a jail cell could never justify having his rights taken away for something so natural - something that we all must do. 

I'm struck by the realization that he is only one such person. Can you imagine the amount of people who fall prey to similar situations such as this one? Are the homeless always going to be victims of this kind of tomfoolery?

I haven’t the slightest clue of what will become of this situation, but I am glad that this individual is not playing victim and plea bargaining out. There are many homeless people who think they have no voice and feel they have no rights. They think that no one cares or no one is going to want to hear their story, but they're wrong. I care. The staff of The Well care. Many people in ministry care. But is that enough? Is it enough to merely care and show some sympathy? 

I’m not going to offer a spiel of things that you who are reading must do or believe. What I will do is issue a challenge both to you and to myself to refuse to fall victim, whether minor or major, to this type of injustice. I challenge all of us to also help those around us to not fall victim either. 

I know it sounds cliché, but there is great truth to the saying that education is the key. By learning the local statutes, we are equipping ourselves to fight back when we're being taken advantage of. We're better prepared to ask questions. We are then able to object to both unfair treatment and unfair laws, and we know better how to make our voices heard. Because we do have a voice, and together our voices are powerful. 

July 7, 2014

Yes, All Women at The Well

At The Well, we don't make people listen to sermons, and we don't sprinkle every outreach or conversation with "Bible talk." We do hope, however, that every person who walks through our doors or meets someone from our community experiences the peace of Jesus during that encounter. We hope this equally for every person, regardless of gender, race, or socio-economic position. At the same time, it is important to recognize that to make this possible for some groups of people, their unique circumstances must be acknowledged and their distinct needs be met. The women who work at The Well and every woman who passes through our doors belong to one such group. 

During the last several weeks, an outcry over the global treatment of women was embodied on Twitter by the #YesAllWomen hashtag. The trending topic garnered much attention on social media and served as a catalyst for many constructive (and instructive) conversations both online and offline. All of this dialog centers around the sobering reality that women of every nation and background continue to be subjected to objectification, marginalization, and the ever-present threat of violence.

Like everyone who comes to The Well, women come seeking to have physical, emotional and spiritual needs met by our community - all needs that Jesus himself cares deeply for. Providentially, the Gospel of John (Chapter 4) offers us a perfect model of this experience.

When we look at Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well - and other women throughout his ministry - we find that, like all people, they are objects of love and forgiveness. But a closer examination reveals that in each of those encounters, Jesus' posture with women was also both contrary to the current culture and particularly instructive to men.

There are two key ways in which I believe Jesus is teaching us to make him real to the women who work at and visit The Well. This a call to anyone who longs for justice and equality, but is especially an appeal to the men in our community.

We Must Make a Safe Place

To experience love, you must first trust the one who extends it. In so many of Jesus' encounters with women, he begins by first breaking down the present-day social barriers between women and men. We must do the same. At The Well, we don't enforce gender roles regardless of our individual beliefs. Our community strives to recognize gender as a part of each other's identity without making it a condition of our individual value. 

As men, we must deliberately unlearn the patriarchal language and patterns of speech that pervade our communication. You don't need "balls" to be courageous, and to a woman even common terms of endearment like "honey" and "baby" often serve as an oppressive reminder that you're "just a woman." We need to stop making excuses about culture and upbringing - our allegiance is not to culture and upbringing, it is to Jesus and each other. 

Jesus also was very intentional about protecting women from men who exerted physical power over them. As an ally who treated them with dignity and respect during times of threat from other men, his mere presence provided great comfort to them. The first step we must undertake is to simply be present. Among staff and volunteers at The Well, women outnumber men 2-1. We desperately need more men to make themselves present on a reliable and ongoing basis. 

Many of our female staff and clients suffer persistent verbal and physical abuse at the hands of men. Women under threat are frequently unable to correct a male abuser for fear of immediate and potentially violent retribution. A man from the community who is present can more safely correct a male abuser, or at the very least ensure that the woman correcting him is safe from retaliation. Again - this is only possible if men from the community are present. 

Even beyond overt physical and verbal abuse, posture and non-verbal communication are often used to intimidate and dominate women. Within our community and our facilities, we must have no tolerance for even the most subtle abuse. Many of our guests endure hellish conditions of abuse and exploitation on the streets, and The Well should be a place where they are free from that, even if only temporarily.

We Must Call Men to a Higher Standard

Part of the reality within which we operate is that men often respond better to authority exerted by other men. Anthony, a regular volunteer at The Well, must only stand up from his chair to quiet the room. His willingness to play this role has earned him a nickname, "The Peacemaker." The mere presence of a male staff member or volunteer in the room is enough to prevent most abuse from male guests and the resulting confrontations. 

The real beauty though of the male peacemaker, is that they also serve as an example of a man who submits to the leadership of the women in the room. As much as men have a responsibility to protect women from other men, we must take care not to slip into the same paternalism used to marginalize and exploit women for millennia. Even as we advocate on women's behalf, we must both learn and teach the truth that both men and women are equal in the eyes of God. As both men and women, we are charged to set the tone of equality and live out example of a healthy male-female relationship dynamic. As both brothers and sisters, we must treat each other as such. 

Beyond correcting bad behavior and setting a positive example, we also must explicitly teach those who come into or pass through our community how to treat each other. That's the reason for this post, and it's why all of our leaders - men and women, staff or volunteer - should be mentoring others in this regard. 

This is how we ensure that all those who come to The Well experience peace and love. In doing so, we can counter the cultural meta-narrative that reduces women to nothing but objects, and men to nothing but animals controlled by sexual urges. Imagine for a moment a community where all of those made in God's image work together in harmony building his kingdom, and misogyny is a thing of the past. It is worth the hard work and the uncomfortable conversations - but more importantly, it is a new reality that we are called to make real. 

Get Involved

You don't have to subscribe to all our beliefs to help. This is a special appeal to all men who share our commitment to creating a place of safety and dignity for women. To learn more about getting involved, please call Lam Robbins at (813) 528-1959, or email lam.vu@vrobb.com

July 1, 2014

2014 Summer Update

The Well moved at the end of April and opened on Florida Avenue at the end of May. Our doors were closed for a few weeks as we made the transition - you wouldn’t know it by looking at our numbers though! We’ve seen unprecedented numbers of visitors and corresponding needs since we re-opened. In addition to the many lunches and dinners served that first week, we shared over 2400 lbs of groceries - more than the entire month of February at our previous location! This new property is situated centrally to some of the most acute needs in Tampa, and since that first week, each day has set a new record in the number of guests. June has already seen over 1100 visits, double the average month’s numbers for the previous year!

A Growing Need

Word continues to spread of The Well’s new location and expanded services. As more of our neighbors turn to us for mercy and assistance, we in turn look to the rest of our Tampa community for help. The needs around us are substantial and go much deeper than a need for groceries or a bicycle, but it is in meeting those needs that we enter into relationships with these neighbors in hopes to meet those more profound hungers too. As new leaders emerge to champion this work and resources become available, we hope to meet more and more of these needs.
Below is a summary of activity during the first half of 2014 in terms of groceries given (visitors served):

January February March April May* June
2,997 lbs
2,153 lbs
3,143 lbs
2,438 lbs
2,462 lbs
5,483 lbs

*    Only open for one week during May

Operating Budget

With the new facilities, our expenses have increased as anticipated. The overwhelming response from those in need however, has far exceeded our expectations. We are grateful to be entrusted with this responsibility, and are now working to fill a modest shortfall in our operating budget.

Yearly Monthly

Fundraising Goal (Operating Budget) $116,059 $9,672

Monthly Pledges $80,560 $6,713

One Time Gifts $20,795 -

Total Raised      $101,355 $8,446

Percent Funded 87% -

Current shortfall:            $(14,704) $(1,225)

Ongoing Material Needs

In order to keep operating and marginal costs to a minimum, we provide for most material needs through donated goods. We have ongoing and increasing need for many of the staple items we try to keep in stock to share with our neighbors.
ü Canned Beans
ü Canned meats
ü Canned Fruit
ü Canned Vegetables
ü Prepared pop-top canned foods
ü Cereal
ü Pop tarts
ü Oatmeal
ü Coffee & tea
ü Sugar & creamer
ü Long shelf-life snack items
ü Dry rice & noodles
ü Dish soap
ü Disposable razors
ü Flashlights & batteries
ü Men’s short sleeve T-shirts
ü Women’s/men’s jeans
ü Women’s/men’s shorts
ü Women’s/men’s underwear
ü White socks
ü Feminine products
ü Mosquito repellent
ü Bags (paper or plastic)
ü Duffel bags & backpacks
ü Toilet paper
ü Sunscreen
ü Toothbrushes
ü Towels
ü Shampoo
ü Conditioner
ü Soaps
ü Toothpaste
ü Deodorant
ü Shoes
ü Bikes
ü Bus Passes

Unfunded Initiatives

In addition to our current operations, there are currently a number of initiatives which we are excited to begin as soon as we secure funding. These items are not included in our current budget.

Initiative Start Up Cost Ongoing Cost

Organic Gardening Program $3,000 $400/mo

Mental Health Counseling & Case Management $0 $1,000/mo

Aquaponics System (fish & vegetable farming) Raised $500/mo

The Re-Cycle Bin (bicycle gifts & repair) Raised $200/mo

Chickens (egg production & waste reduction) $600 $50/mo

Food Truck (commercial kitchen & mobile services) $25,000 $2,700/mo