JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Florida teacher is taking a break from the classroom to be homeless.
He's given up all of his possessions, his car and his family. Tom Rebman showed Action News what he's learning on the streets of Jacksonville.
Homeless and hungry is not something many people are proud of. But for Rebman, it’s a way of life he's been embracing since last summer in Orlando.
“I left Lake Eola on July 4th after the fireworks with nothing but my driver’s license. I kissed my wife goodbye and walked downtown and was homeless,” Rebman said.
A retired Naval officer turned reading teacher for underprivileged children, Rebman decided that being homeless for 30 days would be a good summer reading assignment.
“I had to come up with an engaging thing that would keep them reading and writing over the summer,” Rebman said.
The idea exploded into an awareness campaign. Rebman said only 34 percent of the homeless use drugs.
“That's the whole reason I'm out here. I want people to understand the homeless are 40 percent families. Twenty-five percent are veterans,” he said.
Most of them are sleeping on the streets trying to find an empty bed at a shelter, a free meal or a shower to use. Rebman posted pictures of a shower he found at a shelter in Tampa.
“I wouldn't step in it after not having a shower for 4 days,” Rebman said.
Rebman said he lost 23 pounds in 30 days, had blisters he'd never seen before and spent most of his time sleep deprived.
“The last 10 days of Orlando I didn't think I was going to make it,” he said.
Panhandling and blood donations: the only way he could make a dollar.
“I applied for 150 jobs in Orlando during that 30-day time with my master’s degree, two bachelor’s and my real reference list. But because I put homeless in the address block I didn't get a call,” he said.
Now he begins another homeless journey, this one in Jacksonville with plans to visit every shelter, sharing his travels with the lives he's changed on his Homeless and Hungry Facebook page, all to help educate, and eventually end homelessness.