June 16, 2016

New Eyes for Life

"There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried."
Archbishop Oscar Romero

LGBT folks are both strongly represented and diverse within The Well's broader community. We are well acquainted with the violence they face, violence that all too often left them without a home, and violence that in many cases follows them on the streets. The pain in the eyes of someone who has been ripped out of a family because they refused to lie about who they are and what they believe is indescribable. 

We don't track statistics on the sexuality of our guests, but the Williams Institute finds that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Of those, 89% are homeless specifically because they were rejected by their families, and more than half of them report having suffered physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home. It isn't the ease of surviving on their own that causes them to flee their families either. In Florida, it is perfectly legal to fire someone for no other reason than their sexual orientation. According to the Human Rights Campaign, "more than 20 percent of hate crimes reported nationally in 2014 targeted people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity." Globally, the average life expectancy for non-white trans women is barely 35 years

It is more than those who are visibly attacked who suffer a tragedy. Details have emerged that indicate the person who chose to unleash violence in Orlando this past weekend was himself struggling with sexual identity, and likely concerns about acceptance within his family and broader community. The families and friends of those lost are forever affected, and even many who struggle to empathize with the LGBTQ community are deeply shaken. We all feel a kind of painful separation between ourselves and those we judge or simply do not understand, and with death this estrangement is cemented with a terrifying sense of finality. 

In the end, whether slowly or quickly, life is always fatal. It's not that how we die doesn't matter, or that some deaths are more or less tragic than others. But if there's one thing more tragic than a horribly and unnecessarily painful death, it is a tragic life of being shunned by those who should love you and forgotten or rejected by your community. In every case, long before guns manifest violence, violent words have first manifested. Before hatred of others becomes visible, we have first learned a deeper hatred of ourselves. If we are to hope for a world with less violence, we must first hope for our own hearts to forget judgement and hatred. 

The most precious thing about The Well to me is that we are called and committed to love those that no one else loves. Disagreement about faith, politics, or even facts can all be overwhelmed by love for each other. In the end, it is not having been wrong that makes a tragic life, nor will having been right make it a triumphal life. Separation from each other is the greatest tragedy, and the only triumph happens when we seize and desperately cling to each opportunity to love someone. 

Sometimes, we are afraid to love those who no one else loves. Sometimes, it puts us at odds with powerful forces in our city and beyond. It puts us at odds with other people we love, people we are close to, people we are afraid of losing. In our own city, at The Well, most of the people we encounter for whom sexual identity has led to homelessness and violence come from homes and families that call themselves Christian. For that reason, loving them requires us taking a difficult and awkward stance toward other people who call themselves Christian. 

As my friend Micah puts it:
"I am not impressed with anybody taking a stand with the LGBT community against ISIS, if you’re not taking a stand with the LGBT community against politicians, preachers, and pundits who also try to silence, cause fear, or kill my LGBT friends.
May God give us the courage to boldly stand with those who live under threat of violence. May we mourn with those who mourn, and learn to see through eyes that have cried. 

June 2, 2016

Looking back: Our Narrative History

The Well’s purpose is to serve both those who suffer from material poverty and those who suffer from spiritual poverty. The Well is a community who has been operating a space where anyone in Tampa can come and have their material needs met, but also find what Dorothy Day refers to as “food for the soul.” Rather than simply offering a menu of services and volunteer opportunities, we endeavor to connect people relationally and create a community where members of all ages, races and economic backgrounds can serve and learn from each other. In all of these interactions, we seek to intentionally cultivate dignity, industry, creativity and community.

While we serve the immediate needs of the most vulnerable in our city on a daily basis, we also call our entire city toward a future of cooperation, peace and abundance. Just as we embrace the works of mercy, we simultaneously affirm every individual’s responsibility for and stewardship of their time, talents and material wealth. Everything we do is based on this belief, that a better future for our city is not only possible, but is promised to us as we fulfill together our responsibility to be better neighbors.
Headquartered on Florida Avenue in the Tampa Heights neighborhood, The Well draws thousands of guests, volunteers and visitors every year. We also rely on support from throughout the broader Tampa Bay area, from businesses, civic organizations, churches, as well as other ministries.

This work began in 2004 with the formation of the Lake House, an intentional Christian community located in ybor heights, less than a mile from the Well’s current center. In the years that followed our efforts to simply be Christian and love our neighbors led to the establishment of a house church gathering with friends made in the neighborhood as well as other friends from the many different arenas in our lives like work and school.

It was in those meetings that some who were looking apply what they were learning asked a few others there who were living on the street for ideas and The Banquet, our thursday night community dinner was born in 2008. That same year the Lake House community began aggressively opening its doors to those we met at our meals to share our shower, washing machine, couches, etc. We also began the Tampa Eden Project’s first community garden and launched our monthly open mic/potluck known as the conscious party.

It was 2009 when the Underground moved to 7th avenue and offered our community a space in the building to open our first Family Room and Free Market. As our community grew in capacity and size and as we encountered other needs we did our best to respond as we could. We met many who found housing in the Good Samaritan Inn and so in 2010 a team of us started our Tuesday night meal that we affectionately call “The Good.”

At this point our hands were more than full and we stayed dedicated to building our community and serving in these ways that we had committed ourselves to for the following several years as we maintained a growing presence in the Underground’s space. We are proud to say that The Lake House community, The Banquet, The Tampa Eden Project, The Conscious Party, The Good, The Free Market, and The Family Room are all still operating today.

In 2014 the Well Incorporated and leased the building at 3023 N Florida Ave. where we are still headquartered today. Since moving into our own space we have built many gardens and installed and aquaponics system where we have been learning to raise Tilapia and produce. We also planted a bike co-op known as the ReCycle Bin where neighbors without transportation can come to build their own bike. The move also put us into the heart of need and tampa and we more than quadrupled the number of guests that we were seeing on a daily basis. We have since been approved as a 501C3 non-profit, leased our first house for a pilot housing project, started a lawn business, and developed many wonderful partnerships with schools, churches, grocery stores, restaurants, and others throughout our city.

Since we work with neighbors that are not always wanted or loved we, as a community, have also faced some opposition. That being the case, we have still built a really solid reputation as a loving and sacrificial community that works very hard and leverages every resource available to our shared vision of meeting needs, building bridges, and to see our city made whole.

Join us in pursuit of this shared vision for Tampa, and work with us to build a better future for all of our neighbors.