He started out with the clothes on his back, an identity card, and a cell phone. He ended 20 pounds lighter and with a new perspective on the trials of living on the street.
Thomas Rebman, a 53-year old Florida middle school teacher, spent a month living as though he were homeless. "It was hell," said Rebman, who took on the experiment to raise awareness and over $4,000 for a local food bank according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The former Navy vet said that spending a month on the streets was the hardest thing he has ever done, and he almost gave up three times. He said he got in four fights, slept most nights on concrete or dirt, and was turned down 150 times for work.
"Every myth that I thought about homelessness was busted," Rebman told Channel 9 in Orlando. "They’re not all drug addicts. As a matter of fact, there’s less drug users in the homeless community than there is in society."
Another myth he busted was the notion that pandhandling pays off. Rebman's panhandling attempts garnered only enough money to buy occasional bus fare. He was able to scrape up free meals, but without divulging his real work history, finding work was a bitter struggle.
"I did find a guy willing to pay me $40 for two days of hanging cabinets," he told the Sentinel. "But when I went to try to get work at the labor pool, they wouldn't hire me because I didn't have steel-toed boots."
The majority of his income came from selling his blood plasma once or twice a week for $25 to $50 per visit, which he used to pay shelter fees or occasionally pay for a cheap hotel room to split with another homeless person.
He got blisters, a foot fungus, wore out a new pair of sneakers in under a month, and said that his whole body ached from fatigue and walking miles every day.
But humiliation and rejection were the worst part.
"People demean you. It's miserable. Feet, bug bites, constantly sweating and tired," Rebman told Channel 9. When he held up a "Looking for Work" sign, people cursed at him or yelled, "Get a job!" Acts of kindness such as a cup of coffee or sandwich kept him afloat.Comment on this story
Rebman, who documented his experience on Facebook and YouTube, has a mission to raise awareness about homelessness in Florida, which has 48,000 homeless people on a given night, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Florida is the most dangerous state for the homeless, according to Huffington Post, with more than double the hate crimes against people on the street compared to number two, California, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.
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