Man quits job as teacher, becomes homeless to document treatment

Thomas Rebman living in Miami streets to educate others

MIAMI - Homeless on the streets of Miami is a 53-year-old man desperate for change. As for his situation, Thomas Rebman wouldn't switch a thing.

The retired Navy veteran has three college degrees, two dogs and one very understanding wife who supported his plan quit his job as a middle school teacher.

Rebman taught reading in Orange County, Florida.

Now he's telling a new story about life on the streets by living on them himself. He chooses to be homeless, to document and discover firsthand how the homeless are treated. He posts videos and updates throughout the day on his Facebook page, using a phone he keeps hidden.

That phone is his only luxury. At the time of his interview with Local 10 News, he had $8 in his pocket.

"Every day is survival," Rebman said. "(The) whole reason I'm doing this is to educate the public. Finding the answer to homelessness is easy. Teach the public the truth, and they won't stand for the crap that's going on."

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Rebman's talking about treatment he's endured at shelters and the anti-homeless laws he's crossed paths with in his journey. For the past 75 days and counting, he's been homeless in Florida's nine biggest cities. Miami is the last, and so far, he said the best stop, because of the way the police deal with homeless people on the streets.

Rebman's journey began in the summer of 2014, when he spent 30 days living as a homeless person in Orlando. His mission then was to motivate his students, but he never really left the streets. It became more of a duty than a choice.

"Don't think I'm noble," he said. "It's a passion, and it's also a trap."

That experience convinced Rebman to forego a year of teaching, to leave behind his salary, to see how the rest of Florida treats their homeless population.

It's a dangerous mission. Rebman said he witnesses crime on a daily basis.

"This is not an experiment," he said. "There are no controls."

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His findings do carry weight. Rebman is set to meet with the Governor's Council on Homelessness in February.

He'll stay in Miami for "as long as it takes" until he says he's seen enough to properly asses the dynamic between the city and how it's resources meet the needs of the homeless. Whether or not he returns to teaching remains to be seen. He's found a new classroom and a new class to inform.

"If you educate people, they'll scoop people off streets," he said.

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