PALM BAY, Fla. – To nearly 100 people living in Palm Bay without a home, Tom Rebman is opening doors by opening his heart.
In 2014, the Navy veteran and teacher decided to live on the streets of Orlando for a month to raise money for the homeless and Orange County Schools.
It was such an empathetic experience for Rebman, he decided to continue living homeless around the country.
"I took an entire year off from teaching and went homeless in 13 different cities across America to really find out what's happening, and I've been advocating for the homeless ever since," Rebman said.
His charitable cause to live homeless himself helped Rebman win the News 6 Getting Results Award in 2016.
Now, because of Rebman's latest efforts, Palm Bay is getting the city's first cold-night shelter. By the winter, those sleeping in the woods will be able to stay at Mosaic Methodist Church.
"And we have the largest homeless population and we're the largest city in Brevard County, so for us to be without a cold night shelter made no sense," Rebman said. "Everything's been arranged, and so the first cold night our homeless folks will have a place to sleep."
Rebman said support from leaders at City Hall has been inspiring.
Two productive homeless workshops were held for City Council members in March and May.
"We really had an unbelievable turnout," Rebman said.
He now hopes to get the attention of county, state and federal leaders.
Rebman met Wednesday with state Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) to ask him to author a bill funding more homeless services.
"I appreciate Tom's efforts to bring some of these resources to south Brevard," Fine said. "Tom is doing some good work to make sure that folks who might get hurt on a cold night in December, January or February have a place to go."
Fine agreed to tour the city's homeless camps with Rebman at a future date.
"What's really needed is leadership and caring about the issue. That's what causes collaboration and causes success," Rebman said.