A program aimed at helping homeless veterans get off the streets is falling short, as unwelcome guests are now calling one local veteran's apartment home.
Veteran Ron Burden says the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program got him off the street and into his own place.
But when he ended up in the VA hospital for an extended stay, he says squatters moved in and are refusing to leave.
The I-Team spotted the woman now staying inside Burden's apartment walking up and down Nebraska Avenue earlier in the day.
Burden says she often brings strangers back with her.
We confronted her about that when we ran into her again, after Burden let us into his government subsidized apartment.
She claims Burden allowed her to stay there and that she is paying him rent, something he denies.
“It's outrageous. It's crazy. It’s messing our whole neighborhood up,” says a neighbor who didn't want to be identified due to fear.
She said the squatters are attracting unwelcome traffic and suspicious people that never used to be in the neighborhood.
Burden says the woman moved in while he was at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center for two weeks receiving treatment for a brain injury.
“She found a key I had hidden outside under a brick,” Burden said.
The woman’s boyfriend also moved into the home with her.
“She's the one that knocked that hole in the wall,” Burden said, pointing to a hole in the drywall in his kitchen.
Burden is now dealing with rotting food, empty beer cans and even injuries.
“She bit me right here,” he says, showing two bite marks on his hand.
Taxpayers are footing the bill for burden's $700 per month apartment, but Burden says he can’t sleep in his own bed or access his bathroom.
The VASH Program is part of a $75 million joint partnership between the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development and the VA. It’s intended to provide permanent housing for homeless vets.
But Burden says neither agency nor the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has taken any steps to get the squatters out.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office describes the situation as a civil matter, since they can't determine who has legitimate residency.
“They just moved in and took over my house and the cops said it was cool, and once they told her it was cool, she ain't leaving,” said Burden.
“He fought for us. But for her just to use him, that's not fair,” his neighbor said.
Burden says he can't handle it much longer.
“I can't live in my own house. I gotta go live on the street while they live in my house,” he said.
The sheriff's office says it can't do anything about the squatters.
The VA says it can't discuss individual cases, but a spokesperson referred us to the Tampa Housing Authority, which administers the grant.
A housing authority spokesperson called us back late Thursday, saying the agency was not aware of the situation, but is beginning an immediate investigation.
Tampa Housing Authority says it will do what it can to help the veteran.
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