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Veteran out of tax-funded home, squatters remain

Posted: 4:10 PM, Dec 30, 2015
Updated: 2015-12-30 21:10:12Z
Nearly two weeks ago, we told you about how squatters moved into a veteran's apartment and refused to leave.
 
Even though we were told something would be done immediately, the veteran is the one out on the street now, while squatters continue to live in the apartment you're paying for.
 
“This is all my medication. I've got about five bottles,” said Ron Burden, sorting through the few possessions he hauls around on the backpack perched atop his walker.
 
Burden has been back on the street since Dec. 17.
 
“That's what makes me a living, right there,” Burden said, pointing to a sign that says “Vet. Need help. God bless.”
 
Burden said he makes about $20 a day panhandling at the corner of Dale Mabry Highway and Spruce Street.
 
But he's supposed to be living at a $700 a month apartment, an apartment taxpayers help pay for as part of a program sponsored by the Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department called the VASH program, which stands for Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing.
 
Burden first told us earlier this month how squatters took over his apartment.
 
He said they moved into his home while he was in the VA hospital for treatment of a medical issue.
 
“I can't live in my own house. I gotta go live on the street while they live in my house,” he said at the time.
 
That night, after leaving briefly, Burden said the squatters returned and threatened him.
 
He said he has not returned to live is his apartment since.
 
Burden said the two people who moved into his apartment without his permission were Ashley Nicole Garret, who court records show has been arrested for prostitution and battery, and Derrick Lynn Robinson, who has been convicted of multiple drug related charges.
 
The VA housing program is supposed to not only offer veterans housing, but also give them counseling and other support services.
 
Veterans who are chronically homeless, who have histories of substance abuse or who have mental health issues receive preferential treatment under the program.
 
The Tampa Housing Authority, which manages the housing vouchers, said the VA never told them there was a problem, even though records show Burden first began complaining to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office about the unwelcome guests in early November.
 
A spokesperson said Burden never made it clear that he was in the apartment as part of the VASH program.
 
He said records show law enforcement made at least 30 visits to the apartment in recent months.
 
On two of those occasions, Burden was Baker Acted and sent to the VA Hospital for mental problems.
 
The squatters reportedly told deputies that Burden invited them to live in the apartment and that they were residents.
 
“For a situation like this to continue and go on, where are the wrap around services, the counseling that's helping him to make sure this stuff is not going on? It's not there,” said James Worley, a homeless advocate.
 
Burden's VA Counselor visited the apartment today after we called.
 
We told him where he might be able to find Burden.
 
In the meantime, Burden's landlord is kicking him out for having unauthorized people living there.
 
Burden's already gone.
 
“I don't know where I'm gonna sleep tonight,” he told the I-Team.
 
The squatters remain in the apartment for the time being.
 
Now that the eviction process has begun, the landlord should be able to remove the squatters within the next week.
 
We've learned that Burden was contacted by the VA last week about obtaining a new housing voucher, but the Tampa Housing Authority said he didn't show up at a scheduled appointment this afternoon.
 
They will try to keep Burden in the VASH program, if he will return to their office to fill out the required paperwork.
 
If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, contact us at adam@abcactionnews.com .