Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

His Facebook Page Raises Awareness of Homelessness; 'Homeless' Ex-Teacher Tries to Alter Perception

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

His Facebook Page Raises Awareness of Homelessness; 'Homeless' Ex-Teacher Tries to Alter Perception

Article excerpt

Byline: Rhema Thompson

Sitting on a ledge, smoking a cigarette near the intersection of Church and Main streets, Thomas Rebman is easy to miss.

His beard is scraggly, his jeans are worn, his teeth are stained by years of smoking, and he's dressed in layers-a thermal shirt and a black hoodie. Like a lot of the other men and women standing along the ledge or across the street at a nearby park, he's accompanied by a bag - a stuffed plaid backpack.

But Rebman, 53, isn't homeless and he's not from Jacksonville. He's a retired Navy lieutenant who lives in Orlando with his wife.

His visit to Jacksonville is part of a months-long campaign to bring attention to homelessness and change public perceptions about the issue.

"I'm just trying to illustrate to people that, 'Look, there are a percentage of the homeless that are the vagrants, the drunks, the panhandlers, but it's a small percentage,' " he said.

Throughout each day, he travels around the city with a bag of essential items and the money he manages to collect on the streets - as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, he had raised $6.25. He chats with other homeless individuals around the neighborhood to find out their experiences and he updates his Facebook page "Homeless and Hungry."

For those, like 36-year-old Mimi Hunter, who is homeless and lived in Jacksonville for the last month, the experience has not been good.

"Most of us are good people ... We just want somewhere to rest," she said.

To most of the public, she added, "we're just an eyesore."

Rebman said he aims to change that perception one social media update at a time.

His social experiment began as a summer school assignment last year.

Rebman, who holds a bachelor's and master's degree in education, was hired as a reading teacher at Orlando's Lockhart Middle School.

"I had to come up with something that was engaging," he said, adding that many of the students struggle with poverty as well. …

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