It is not uncommon to see a person, presumably homeless, holding a sign on the roadside advertising their willingness to work for food. Many understand the struggles facing homeless people in this country. However, some feel that one man running a homeless program in Florida may be violating the wage and hour law.
As part of the New Beginnings program, residents must pay $150 a week. This covers their room and board. To cover these costs for those who cannot afford them, the men are sent to various businesses and organizations to work. However, some claim that the men are not adequately compensated for their work -- but rather that payment is given directly to the program director, and the workers see none of the money, even if they earn more than the cost of their room and board.
In 1998, a judge in New York ruled that a similar program was a violation of labor law. This program was run by two organizations that were reportedly making a large profit while the men were only being paid between $1 and $1.50 per hour, and the judge ordered the organization to pay approximately $800,000 to former employees. In order to ensure that the men are treated fairly -- and legally -- New Beginnings must ensure that they earn the minimum wage. To do this, New Beginnings must keep track of work hours as well as keep documentation outlining the value of the room and board provided. The founder of the program says they do not keep a record of work hours.
While it is necessary to have programs in Florida that assist homeless people, it is important to ensure that the programs are not exploiting the homeless by violating wage and hour law. For employees who feel that they have not received the wages they deserve by law, there are options available. By pursuing legal recourse, these people may not only be able to receive the wages they deserve, but this could also prevent others from being treated similarly in the future.
Source: tampabay.com, "Tampa homeless program uses unpaid, destitute residents as steady labor force, revenue source", Will Hobson, Nov. 29, 2014