Traveling homeless man shares his message, story

Published: Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 10:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 10:27 p.m.

A man who sold all he owned to buy a van and travel around the country so he could live with the homeless shared his message and story Friday night.

James Barnett, 24, the founder of Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself, spoke at Christian Study Center in Gainesville to share his story, message, and viewpoint in a speech called "Join them on the floor."

Barnett said his faith propelled him to quit his job at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Bank in 2009, to sell everything he owned, buy a van and travel across the country to live with the homeless.

As a Christian, he said he wants to be like Jesus, including caring for the poor. But Barnett said he doesn't want people to misunderstand who he is.

"I'm not out there living the way I do because I'm godly; I'm out there because I'm so ungodly," he said. "I'm not out there because I'm like Jesus; I'm out there because I'm so unlike Jesus."

In that same year, Barnett founded the organization Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself. This nonprofit organization donates clothes to those in need for every shirt an individual purchases from the group.

Barnett, however, said he doesn't want to lead the organization without living on the same level as those he helps.

"There's a misguided understanding that charity is built upon the principal that others should become like us," he said. "Jesus says to become like others."

This idea, Barnett said, is what inspired the theme for his speech, "Join them on the floor."

"No, you can't provide beds for everyone," he said. "But you can join them on the floor."

The discussion, held by North Central Baptist Church, was part of the church's First Friday, a monthly meeting in which congregation members gather on the first Friday of each month. Around 40 people came to hear Barnett speak. Admission was free and Barnett's appearance was open to the public. Throughout his speech, Barnett urged individuals to take their own call to action.

"Whatever you want to see different in the world, become that," he said. "When there are enough of us doing that, then the world will be different."

Gayane Margaryan, a senior at the University of Florida, said she was interested to hear Barnett's story after hearing about his work from a friend.

"I was interested to hear what experiences he had and what motivates someone to go where he was in his life and give it up and work for the poor," she said. "Because I'm about to graduate, I'm searching for what I want to do and it's good to have these difference perspectives."

Barnett left Gainesville Saturday for other speaking engagements in Jacksonville and Daytona. When he isn't speaking, he is traveling across America to live with the homeless.

Barnett said that, although his lifestyle isn't for everyone, it never leaves him bored.

"This is a very exciting life," he said. "Anyone who ever said Christianity is boring is not reading the same Bible I am."

To find more about Barnett's organization, a list of speaking events or how to get involved, visit the Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself website at

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