Monday, December 18, 2017
News Roundup

'Homeless Jesus' sculpture finds latest home in Tampa

TAMPA

The new sculpture at Hyde Park United Methodist Church is designed to command attention. In other cities, it has prompted calls to the police.

Passers-by have been startled to see what they thought was a homeless person wrapped in a thick blanket and lying on a bench with only bare feet exposed. If they had looked more closely, they would have seen wounds on the feet left by nails.

They would have realized it was a statue of Jesus.

"It's unsettling, it's uncomfortable, it's jarring to see this individual," said Vicki Walker, the church's minister of missions and outreach. "Your eyes are drawn to the nail-pierced feet, and you gasp."

That's the point of the sculpture titled Homeless Jesus. Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz designed it to call attention to the plight of the homeless. It visualizes the biblical passage in the Book of Matthew, which calls on Christians to care for "the least" among us.

"How close do we come to homeless people?" Schmalz said. "Not that close. Usually there's a big bubble."

The sculpture's latest home is in Tampa at the Portico, the downtown campus of the church. Other replicas of the statue sit outside churches in 16 other cities across North America and in one city in Australia. It's slated to be installed in a dozen other cities across the world, including India, and has even been blessed by Pope Francis.

"It's our hope and our intent that we would remind people and remind ourselves that the homeless are not invisible," said the Rev. Magrey deVega, senior pastor at Hyde Park United Methodist Church. "In fact, when we look into their faces, we can see the face of Jesus himself."

Schmalz said the homeless are often treated as if they're not even there. In the Tampa Bay area, at times, they have been treated worse than that.

In 2007, St. Petersburg police came under national criticism when officers slashed makeshift tents in an attempt to clear a homeless camp. In 2009, businesses and residents pressured the Hillsborough County Commission into rejecting a plan to build temporary housing for the homeless near the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

Then in 2013, the Tampa Bay Times revealed Hillsborough's mismanaged Homeless Recovery program wasted millions housing the homeless in crime-ridden slums.

In recent years the number of homeless citizens in the bay area has remained steady. Last year there were 1,931 homeless people in Hillsborough County, according to the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative. That's just 13 fewer than the 1,944 homeless reported in 2014. Pinellas County reported 3,387 homeless people in 2015, down four from the year before, according to a report by the state's Council on Homelessness.

"There's frankly still a lack of places for people who are unhoused to spend their days," Walker said. "I don't know where they're supposed to go."

The Hyde Park church has spent two decades helping Tampa's homeless. At the church's main campus on W Platt Street, Walker serves breakfast to those in need every Sunday morning.

"We are all doing our little parts," Walker said of local churches and nonprofits, "but they all don't add to the whole picture where everyone is housed and safe."

She has kept a miniature Homeless Jesus in her office for several years now. Schmalz started selling them once his sculpture — first installed in Toronto in 2013 — went viral.

Schmalz, a renowned Christian artist, has a few rules about where Homeless Jesus can go. It has to sit in front of a church people will walk past, he said. It's meant to be experienced, like a piece of theater. That's why he made room on the bench near Jesus' feet: so one can sit and pray before it. And he limits Homeless Jesus to one per city.

Tampa's Homeless Jesus was installed last week and is set to be unveiled today at noon, just before the 12:30 p.m. Ash Wednesday service at the church's downtown campus.

Church officials first started talking with Schmalz about obtaining its own replica of the sculpture last spring, according to deVega, the senior pastor. The outgoing pastor at the time set the groundwork, prompting 214 members of the congregation to donate the $40,000 it cost to manufacture, ship and install the statue. That money was raised separately from the funds used to help the homeless, deVega said.

Schmalz guesses about 10 percent of the responses his piece receives in new cities are negative: It comes from people who believe it's disrespectful to represent the Son of God as homeless.

He wonders why it took 2,000 years to imagine Jesus in this way. Too often, he said, Jesus is depicted as having "perfect abs, perfect blow-dried hair and perfect straight white teeth." Schmalz said he wanted to create a Jesus who would be more relatable, to bridge the gap between rich and poor. He believes that gap has never been greater.

As he put it: "If you're a Christian, but hate this sculpture and find it offensive, do you not read the Bible?"

Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400. Follow @sara_dinatale.

Comments
Forecast: Morning fog leads to a warm and sunny pre-Christmas week in Tampa Bay

Forecast: Morning fog leads to a warm and sunny pre-Christmas week in Tampa Bay

Thick fog will usher in a warm and sunny pre-Christmas week.10News WTSPThe latest 7-day forecast The fog is especially thick along the Interstate 4 corridor in eastern Hillsborough County into Polk County, with visibilities to near zero in Lakeland ...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Tampa flights affected as Atlanta airport outage creates holiday chaos

Tampa flights affected as Atlanta airport outage creates holiday chaos

ATLANTA — While power has been restored to the world’s busiest airport, the travel woes will linger for days. Thousands of people were stranded Monday morning at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where more than 1,000 flights were gro...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Advocates push orca breeding law as SeaWorld’s policy appears murky

Advocates push orca breeding law as SeaWorld’s policy appears murky

The announcement was rolled out to the world as a pledge. A promise.In March 2016 SeaWorld declared it would end killer whale breeding, making the orcas in its care in the United States and abroad its last generation to live in captivity.Later that y...
Updated: 9 hours ago
PolitiFact Florida: Did President Trump break a promise to Florida’s Haitian population?

PolitiFact Florida: Did President Trump break a promise to Florida’s Haitian population?

With Election Day 2016 approaching, then-candidate Donald Trump traveled to Miami to earn the support of a group of Haitian-Americans."Whether you vote for me or you don’t vote for me, I really want to be your greatest champion, and I will be your ch...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Ernest Hooper: Hillsborough County School District needs meaningful action, not platitudes

When it comes to the Hillsborough County School District, the more I see, the less I know.Every week, the notion the district can successfully navigate its budget crisis and all the ancillary problems sprouting from it takes a hit. The dispute betwee...
Updated: 11 hours ago
VA rejects system private hospitals use to save millions on shipping, Tampa company says

VA rejects system private hospitals use to save millions on shipping, Tampa company says

TAMPA — If you could pay $19.19 to ship a package instead of $227.32, wouldn’t you go for the cheaper rate?That’s the question raised by Rob Barrow and Will Sands, Marine combat veterans and businessmen from Tampa who say the Department of Veterans o...
Published: 12/18/17

Search continues for suspect in fatal Clearwater drive-shooting

CLEARWATER — Police continue to search for the suspect after a woman was killed Sunday night in a drive-by shooting.Authorities said the shooting occurred around 8:15 p.m. in the 1500 block of Scranton Avenue.An unidentified 30-year-old woman was kil...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Atlanta airport power outage cancels 1,000 flights; more Delta cancellations Monday

Atlanta airport power outage cancels 1,000 flights; more Delta cancellations Monday

ATLANTA — A sudden power outage brought the world’s busiest airport to a standstill Sunday, grounding more than 1,000 flights in Atlanta just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush. Authorities announced that electricity would be restored...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Bucs-Falcons: Things to watch in Monday’s 8:30 p.m. game

Bucs-Falcons: Things to watch in Monday’s 8:30 p.m. game

TAMPA — The Bucs and Falcons have each won three straight games on Monday nights as they face each other on a national platform tonight at Raymond James Stadium.How can Tampa Bay continue its streak and stop Atlanta’s? It won’t be easy, but given the...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Bitcoin futures begin trading on CME, price little changed

NEW YORK — Another security based on the price of bitcoin, the digital currency that has soared in value and volatility this year, began trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Sunday. The CME Group, which owns the exchange, opened up bitcoin f...
Updated: 8 hours ago