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Nudist RV park may evict disabled writer

Brandon Barger has no shortage of things to worry about.

He needs a wheelchair to get around and has limited use of his arms and hands.

He's losing his eyesight and can barely see the numbers on his phone to make a call.

His heart is so enlarged he's at risk of strokes.

Now add this: He could become homeless because he's not a good nudist neighbor.

Barger, 28, lives in the Paradise Pines RV Park in Lutz, one of several nudist communities in Pasco County. He moved there a year ago because it was affordable and close to his trusted friend and provider. Now the homeowners association wants to evict him on grounds that he's caused disruptions at the park and isn't a practicing nudist, a requirement of all residents.

Barger says he can't afford to move, and his landlord, Bud Bowen, has no intention of forcing him out. Doing so would violate his rights as a handicapped person, Bowen said, not to mention be cruel.

"They can't kick him out,'' he said. "If they want to go to court, we will.''

The debate began several months ago when the homeowners association voted unanimously not to renew Barger's lease and gave him until Aug. 8 to pack up his single-wide trailer and leave.

The vote sparked a volley of e-mails from Bowen's wife, Deb, who accused the board of trying to evict Barger because they want only "beautiful people'' living in the park. Claims about him not being a nudist are just a ploy to get him out, she said.

"Where would they like him to practice?'' she wrote. "He sits on his 4- by 4-foot porch in his wheelchair in the nude, but nobody ever stops to see him, to talk to him, so how would they know?''

Barger would gladly schedule appointments. "They say I'm not a nudist? I say, 'Well, come look.' ''

Association officials say their issue isn't just with Barger, but also with his landlord, who has refused to discuss the issue with them or attend the meetings on Barger's behalf.

"We put it up for discussion, and the board acted the way it did,'' vice president Brian Griffith said. "It was without bias. It was without prejudice. There was no particular reason other than the board has the power to approve or disapprove the lease. It wasn't because he was handicapped. We're not discriminating.''

The board took up the issue again in September and gave Barger until Oct. 20 to leave or face a $30 a day fine, owed by his landlord. Board members said this week that whether the fines take effect will depend on the decision of the association's fines committee, which hasn't yet met.

Rather than move out, Barger filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations accusing Paradise Pines of discriminating against him because he's handicapped. An investigation is pending and could last up to 100 days.

Jacquie Puxty, president of the association, said his handicap had no bearing on the board's decision. They turned down his lease because he doesn't look after his dog or maintain his property, she said. She also accused him of once inviting a prostitute to his house.

"We are a small, private, nudist community … and he has not been a good neighbor,'' she said. "We are totally open to any investigation. We want to do things right and fair, but we also want to do what's right for all of our residents.''

Deb Bowen says if anyone tries to move Barger's trailer, "I swear I will lay down in the street to stop them.''

The dispute exacerbates an already stressful situation for Barger, who suffers from Friedreich's ataxia, which causes progressive damage to the nervous system, and osteogenesis imperfecta, brittle bone disease.

"If I've done anything wrong, I would be the first to admit it,'' he said. "But what have I done? I don't know what their problem is.''

Barger became a nudist somewhat by accident. He was working at a local Walmart a few years ago when he met Paco Gayon, a nudist who lives in Lake Como, another nudist resort. Gayon, now 86, liked Barger's professionalism, and the two became friends.

When Barger's health began to decline, he moved to Lake Como so Gayon could run errands for Barger and help him with household chores. Barger didn't know much about nudism but thought it would be fun and interesting.

Gayon, who never had any children, bought Barger a $20,000 mobile home because he could afford to and believed that Barger is a "person who deserves more than he has received.'' He also paid Barger's membership to the American Association of Nude Recreation, a must for anyone living at Lake Como and Paradise Pines.

Over time, the two became like family.

"At first I was like, 'What's the catch?' '' Barger said. "Then he opened up to me and said he wanted to do some good before he died.''

At Lake Como, Barger learned to appreciate his naked body, even in its weakened state. He spent most of his time in the nude.

But he could no longer work, and the $480 a month rent became too steep. Through mutual acquaintances, Barger met Bowen, who owned several lots up the street at Paradise Pines. Bowen offered him a good deal: $300 a month.

Barger came to Paradise Pines looking for a new start. He was working on his website, crippledcracker.net, and hoped to finish writing a novel, a comedy about love and adventure loosely based on his life.

He started having problems with the home­owners association in April. Barger called 911 because a homeless woman he befriended on the Internet refused to leave his home. Some of the neighbors didn't like the intrusion. She got a trespassing warning.

Problems intensified in June, when Barger left his dog, Punky, in the rain. A neighbor put the dog back in the house and, upon smelling a bad odor, alerted authorities.

A Pasco County sheriff's deputy did a welfare check and concluded Barger was okay. The odor? The dog had urinated on the floor.

Barger's condition has some of his neighbors concerned. They question if he can take care of himself and worry that something could happen to Gayon, his main means of support.

"My own personal opinion is that he should probably look into some type of assisted living,'' said Ken Busch, who's not involved with the association. "I appreciate him wanting his freedom, but he needs more help.''

Griffith, the board member, blames Barger's landlord for creating an unfortunate situation by allowing him to move there in the first place.

"We're not ruthless people, but we have a job to do,'' he said. "We're just trying to enforce the rules.''

Gayon insists he won't let Barger become homeless, even if that means moving his trailer back to Lake Como and helping with rent. For anyone who thinks Barger isn't pretty enough to live in the park, Gayon wants to give them a mirror.

Strangely enough, Barger finds himself more naked than ever because getting dressed has become such a chore. His eyesight is so blurry, he fears he'll go blind.

Still, he vows to keep fighting in the hope that some other handicapped person might benefit.

When Barger feels overwhelmed, he rolls his wheelchair to the mirror and looks at the big tattoo at the base of his neck. It's the Greek symbols for the word alone.

Seeing it makes him feel stronger.

Nudist RV park may evict disabled writer 10/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 1:38pm]
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