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Embracing Challenges and Changes

So we are standing before the special magistrate, sure that we have done everything that code enforcement has asked of us. Turns out we are in full compliance and dismissed from the city hall chamber. As we walk out, our code enforcement inspector walked out with us as we were his only case that day. In the elevator he told us, you are in compliance now but we will be seeing each other again soon. “You are under a microscope” he said, “every time we have a meeting they," as in the civic association, "are asking 'what about the Well?'”

We have seen this play out before and know that we will inevitably need to move from our current location. It can become a full time job dealing with a relentless onslaught from the city and we do not want to let the work fall victim to the fight. We have also learned many lessons over the years and have been drawing some conclusions about how best to proceed into the future of our work. So with internal and external reasons we have been working hard to flesh out our values and lessons so that they may serve to guide us into the future. As a learning and flexible community we wanted to share a few things we are aiming for as we move forward. We pray you too will see the wisdom and necessity of adapting and that you will press on with us.

Below you will find some of the ways we plan to change and grow in the coming months. We pray that this update gives you an understanding for the coming changes. 
Increase Overall Agility

If the last decade of work has taught us anything, it is that the poor are always on the move. Whether the result of subtle shifts like gentrification or the deliberately hostile policies of local government, we have seen concentrations of the most vulnerable people in our city entirely relocated in just a few short years. We ourselves have been chased from neighborhood to neighborhood as civic associations and government decide that our services and the people they attract are no longer welcome. That is exactly what we are currently experiencing.

In our current form, most of our services are centralized in one location where everyone can come and receive whatever they need. While this is efficient in the sense that someone who needs a bicycle, shower, and food can come to one place and find what they need, it also creates a volume of demand that is immobilizing and overwhelming. Our Family Room becomes packed with people, each in need of something different, and each need just as urgent as the other, which makes it more of a queue than a safe place to rest. Centralized services also leads to a location that can be targeted by local civic associations and Tampa's Executive branch that want to cleanse their neighborhood of blight. Even if we could dig our heels in and remain, the folks we serve will not be welcome to stay in this neighborhood much longer and so our services wouldn't be needed here anyway. 

Because of the challenges that come with having a centralized model, we have considered our options and realized we need to establish a more agile form. We plan to mobilize our services, so instead of having a central location where everyone comes, we will go to where the need has originated. We will be free to move as the need moves, we will be free to serve different areas in Tampa instead of just one neighborhood, and we will be free from the danger of neighbors targeting us through local government, code violations, and constant energy expended on putting out these fires.

Of course this will mean transitioning from the current drop-in center. We will be scaling the center down and redirecting resources like food into a more distributed and mobile model. Our family room will be a loss, for now, but the relationships built in that space will now get a greater portion of our love and attention. 

Pursue Partnerships

A spirit of collaboration is at the heart of our vision for the city. We are stronger together. One benefit of creating mobile outreach units is that this model will enable us to take our services into different neighborhoods throughout the city and support the work of communities that are already on the ground building relationships. We are excited to offer our assets and stand with others that are dedicating themselves to the cause in their own communities. Many hands make the work light and partnerships will help spread out the relational load and share the work with others throughout our city.

Enable Social Enterprise

So while we meet many with needs during outreach, it is a smaller number of friends that we have made whose needs we intend to prioritize. Those who have stepped up to serve and work alongside us, those who have opened up to us relationally, those who keep showing up and serving the community. With us they have meaningful labor and have demonstrated their commitment and work ethic and it is now necessary to build small business initiatives to create earned income opportunities for those who need and want it.

Beyond any of the specific business initiatives, what we are developing is a model of social enterprise intended to leverage commercial strategies to create opportunities for supportive employment for the poor in Tampa. In the spirit of Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries, “We bake bread to hire homies; we don't hire homies to bake bread.”

We recognize the need for works of mercy (food, clothing, friendship, etc) and intend to continue this work while dedicating a substantial portion of our energy into opportunities that get at the deeper challenges and issues some folks face. One major issue behind many of the needs that we face is a lack of access to earned income opportunities among our people. We want to put people to work and have seen the energy and innovation that exists among many of our friends and neighbors that are experiencing material poverty. Those talents and abilities can be harnessed and leveraged to build small businesses that are intended to create jobs.

So far we have been experimenting with growing produce for market, landscaping, and junk removal. We have been visiting other communities that have been building businesses to create social impact and a small team of us will be visiting Homeboy Industries in August to join their global network gathering. Be sure to check out the Faith in Action segment below.

Be Responsible to the Few

We have in many respects, been guilty of abusing the dedication of the few in our service of the many. We have welcomed in so many over the last few years that it has made it very challenging to build the deep relationships that all of our 'services' are an excuse to build. Out of a thousand folks we meet there are but a few dozen that stand out as real friendships and maybe only half of those who have joined the team and become like family. Many of the folks who pour themselves out alongside us still lack pay (we have no money to offer), lack a place to live, and often lack much more. Many of our staff team also live on way less than is possible. We do it because our heart is here and the need is real but allowing this team of heroes to plummet into debt, exhaustion, or the like is not ok.  So we have realized the need to be responsible to the few. In spite of our commitment to modesty, if a worker is truly worthy of their wage, none of those in full-time service should go without security in these most basic of needs. It is our belief, however, that a firm commitment in this regard will allow lifetime dedication to this vital work to become possible. So while we have done A LOT with so little, we have made that possible by overtaxing the faithful few. We are going to change that and make sure that these core folks are taken care of before we turn our gaze back to the overwhelming needs of the masses around us.

With all of the upcoming changes we are also excited to consider some strategic reorganizing of leadership roles so as to empower younger leaders and put each of us where we will best serve the community. We are excited to have you join us in this next season of work and thank you so much for your love and partnerships. 

Creative Loafing Article:
Heights & Lows

Fox 13 Piece:
Faith in Action 

Thank You for your support and prayers

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