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Florida Teacher Lives Homeless In Jacksonville To Break Down Stereotypes

Shannon LeDuke

An Orange County public school teacher is in Jacksonville this week to bring attention to issues facing homeless people. Thomas Rebman took a year off from his career to live homeless in cities around Florida. He was across the street from Jacksonville’s Hemming Park Friday morning.

"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," Rebman says. "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 says one purpose of his mission is to correct the misconception that homeless people don’t have jobs because they are lazy or unwilling to work. He says it’s practically impossible for someone who’s homeless to get a job when they don’t have a permanent address to list on an application.

"I applied for 150 plus jobs in 30 days and couldn’t get any job. And the reason is not that people are against the homeless," Rebman says. "It’s because if you have a number of job applications you’re going to pick the best candidate as an employer. And when you see homeless on the application that’s not your best candidate."

Credit Shannon LeDuke / WJCT
Thomas Rebman

Rebman says another problem is that many people are misinformed about the homeless shelters. He says that the homeless can’t just live at the homeless shelters; most shelters charge them to stay the night. 

Rebman is meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s Council on Homelessness in February to share his experience and insight into what can be done to help. Until then Rebman says he has a solution that could end homelessness, and it doesn’t require a government agency or even a charity to make it happen. 

Rebman says  people who want to help the homeless should "get to know that person, find out if they have a need, and give them what you are comfortable with." Rebman says, "It doesn't have to be money. I'll tell you what I need more than money, food or a bed: somebody to support me and help me. All day I'm demeaned and treated horribly. I need somebody that's going to care about me more than anything else."

He adds, "If you get to know that homeless person, and you feel the need to reach out to them, that's the way you help homelessness. One person, one on one. There's lots of great people out here that need lots of help, and we’re not providing it as a society."

To follow Thomas Rebman on his journey, visit his Facebook page, Homeless and Hungry.

Ray Hollister can be reached at, 904-358-6341 or on Twitter at @rayhollister.