Singing For Their Sake bands artists together for Tampa Bay's homeless youth

The benefit event happens on August 11 in Seminole Heights.

click to enlarge THROUGH A FATHER'S EYES: Songwriter and parent Kristopher James. - Haniah Griffith c/o Gasparilla Music Festival
Haniah Griffith c/o Gasparilla Music Festival
THROUGH A FATHER'S EYES: Songwriter and parent Kristopher James.

Look up from the phone long enough, and you’ll see homeless people with signs in hand, asking for charity. Debate about whether sparing that dollar or a little of your loose change does anything to help or harm Tampa Bay’s homeless population is everywhere. In a March Tampa Bay Times story about the decision to give on the street or not, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn suggested that handing cash to panhandlers only perpetuates the problem of homelessness. Other groups argue that random church outreach programs that serve in parks — or Food Not Bombs activists who were arrested in January 2017 after illegally serving food to homeless people — are just as guilty of making it easier for the chronically homeless to live hard lives on the outside.

“You’re not helping,” Buckhorn said. His message is juxtaposed to one Pope Francis shared with a Milan magazine in 2017: Give them the money, and don’t worry about it… giving “is always right.” It should be done respectfully and with compassion, according to the Pope, but what if you give and then the homeless person buys a glass of wine?

“[If] a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that’s OK. Instead, ask yourself what do you do on the sly? What ‘happiness’ do you seek in secret?” he asked. Critics of those who give to panhandlers say that the money would be better spent on programs that provide support services. But what about the unseen homeless, especially the 18-24-year-olds we don’t see out on the street? Who’ll look out for them? Us, in some part, apparently.

“This program relies solely on the assistance of donations, private fundraising, interns and volunteers which allows us to work with many of the youth that do not qualify for the other federally funded programs,” said Chelsey Broy, program coordinator at the Tampa Bay Youth Outreach arm of the nonprofit Camelot Community Care. On August 11, Tampa bicycle shop Vélo Champ is hosting a Seminole Heights party where philanthropic music lovers can donate to a variety show and cookout benefiting the program. Broy — whose career in social work started in the Counseling and Human Service program at Hillsborough Community College — was taken aback by the unresolved childhood trauma many homeless adults deal with. “Most of their very natural feelings are never validated by anyone,” she said.

Kristopher James, a St. Petersburg songwriter who is performing at “Singing For Their Sake,” sees the issue through the lens of a father.

“Imagining my kids on the street absolutely kills me — these are someone’s kids. They deserve to be loved, fed, supported, encouraged and inspired by humanity, not systemically discouraged and ignored,” he said.

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Will Quinlan — a Tampa songwriting staple who will also take the stage — saw aspects of homeless from the front row because his mother, who suffered from mental illness, was without housing for a short time. His deep empathy for those whose daily lives don’t include four walls and a roof extends to those who have dedicated themselves to helping solve the more difficult issues in the community.

“These things, fundraisers, benefits — it’s not just about the cause, it’s also about the many beneficial uses of music and art and how they can be vehicles that help us remind ourselves of our capacity for good,” Quinlan said. “We’re not just giving money toward a cause, we’re investing in ourselves, in our own compassion.”

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Another performer — Zambian-born, St. Petersburg-based songwriter Mwiza Simfukwe — wanted to do the show because he, too, faced hard times after deciding to pursue music full-time.

“I ended up being homeless, living in my car or couch-hopping, until I started getting regular shows,” he said, adding that he didn’t classify himself as without a home since he was living in his car and not asking for money on the street. He feels lucky to be able to meet strangers who indirectly support him through the arts, but he knows that not all young homeless have that option. “As young people, everything is volatile, from jobs to relationships with friends and even family — the issue of homelessness among the youth to the public eye since it tends to go unmentioned.”

For years, Maria Fabian — a young comedian emceeing the event — hid her homelessness from teachers in high school before one of them caught on and helped her get into an all-girls shelter. Orphaned at six years old after her mom, a prostitute, died after a fight with HIV, Fabian lived with an aunt whose husband made sexual advances towards her. After finding out, Fabian’s aunt sold the home and left her — at 16 years old — alone with her two brothers in an apartment in the Suitcase City neighborhood of Tampa. One of Fabian’s brothers went to jail and the other ran away with friends. She’s since written a book about her experience and hopes that her now-broken silence can help young people still unafraid to reveal their homelessness.

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Vélo Champ owner Jordan Miller is married to Broy from Tampa Bay Youth Outreach and has described the shop as a “third place” (ie: not home, not work) where his family, friends and customers can create a sense of community. In that sense, it’s fitting that Vélo Champ’s 5,000 square foot courtyard — combined with the patio and main interior — will do its best to help young kids who call the streets just outside the bicycle shop home. Broy hopes to make “Singing For Their Sake” — where admission includes a 7venth Sun beer, a plate of cajun fare and access to a cash oyster bar — an annual event. She’s hoping that the cycling, music and generally philanthropic community can band together for the cause since many of her clients feel “they are invisible and that no one really cares what happens to them.”

Here’s a chance for the community to not just help, but to prove that it does see them. Here’s to hoping those kids will see the signs and hear you. 

Singing For Their Sake: A benefit for Tampa’s at-risk youth w/Will Quinlan/Kristopher James/Mwiza Simfukwe/more. Sat. Aug. 11, 7 p.m. $20 (includes cajun food). Vélo Champ, 4415 N. Florida Ave., Tampa.More info: local.cltampa.com.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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