Thomas Rebman of Orlando, Florida has been getting quite a bit of attention for something that really needs to be talked about: Homelessness.
Rebman is a retired Naval Officer turned middle school teacher who has taken a year off from teaching to live as a homeless man. He has received quite a bit of press in Florida for voluntarily living homeless in nine different Florida cities for a cumulative total of 75 days. As he lives homeless, he records his experience and shares it on his Facebook page, Homeless and Hungry. It all started as a summer reading program for his middle school students, but it has grown into so much more.
He told WJCT News in Jacksonville:
I’m exactly the same as every other homeless person, except I’m doing it voluntary, and I know I can leave at any time. So, I don’t have the real emotional problems that they do, as far as not knowing when it’s ever going to end. Other than that, I have every problem they have. I have to find something to eat. I have to try to get work, to get money, the exact same problems.
Rebman shared some brutally honest truths from his previous campaigns during a recent speech at Rollins College in Orlando. He pointed out:
- The fastest growing homeless community is women and children.
- Homeless shelters charge homeless people $3 to wash laundry.
- Homeless shelters charge between $9-$13 a night for a bed.
- He applied for 155 jobs with his real resume, which includes his military experience, and master’s degree and he received zero interviews. “Homeless” was in the address block.
- Bathing is extremely difficult – he bathed in public restrooms and even washed his hands in downtown fountains.
- No restrooms are available so the choice is the public library or urinating in public.
- If you fall asleep in the public library in Orlando, they ban you from visiting for life.
- He said he experienced many physical consequences of homelessness. “Blisters on my feet, athlete’s foot, shin splints, lost nearly 23lbs in 30 days, bed bugs from two shelters.”
- In many cities, he felt hunted by the police, as the trend to criminalize homelessness continues.
However, he left the talk on a positive note, sharing that there are homeless programs that work – housing first programs end homelessness. He says it all boils down to respect and empathy.
What I needed more than somebody handing me a meal or a blanket on a cold night – was somebody to treat me with respect. The next time you see someone downtown, or anywhere, treat them like a human.
Now the “homeless teacher” is planning to take his unique form of advocacy across the United States, and his first stop is Skid Row in Los Angeles. He plans to be homeless for 30 days nationwide, and hit various cities along the way.
In an interview, I asked Tom what made him choose Skid Row as his first destination. His reply:
The horror of Skid Row highlights the inhumane treatment homeless people experience throughout the country everyday. I want my next destination to get people’s attention. We need to end homelessness now.
With previous campaigns, Tom’s organization, Homeless and Hungry, has raised funds for other local charities. However, now the man that has so generously given of himself is in need of support.
His GoFundMe page says:
“Our initial financial goal is $4,000 to pay travel expenses for my 30 day campaign “Homeless in the United States.”
Tom will leave Orlando on April 27 and live homeless on Skid Row May 1. You can follow his journey on the Homeless and Hungry Facebook page.
Featured Image via Malingering/Flickr