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  1. Military

Howard Altman: Homeless veteran finally agrees to leave the woods behind

Two people who work with the homeless, Hillsborough sheriff's Deputy Luke Hussey, left, and Thomas Brown, right, finally persuaded veteran Randy Strieby to trade his life in the woods for a hotel room and soon, for an apartment. [Courtesy of Thomas Brown]

Thomas "T-Man" Brown called me up Wednesday afternoon with news that came as a welcome surprise.

A former Army staff sergeant who works with Tampa Crossroads helping homeless veterans, Brown was exuberant.

"Randy the roofer is finally coming out of the woods!"


The last time I saw Randy Strieby, 67, was nearly two years ago. I was traveling with Brown on a mission to Ruskin to find this veteran, who had been living in the woods.

A small, wiry man wearing a dirty green shirt and sweat pants emerged from behind a clump of trees.

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"Roofer Randy, child of God and nature," the man said.

For more than a half-hour, Brown tried persuading Strieby, who says he was in the Army from 1973 to 1977, to go find shelter. Strieby declined, saying he didn't want to stray too far from where he works as a roofer. With other things to do, Brown gave him a ride to a job at a nearby house and continued on with his busy day, trying to track down homeless veterans for a Veterans Day event in Tampa.


For the past four years, Brown had been trying mightily to get Strieby into a shelter, but for four years, Strieby refused.

Until Wednesday.

Brown said he was out on another search for Strieby when a man riding a bicycle led him to the latest location.

The two talked and Strieby, after spending the past 20 years living in the woods and makeshift housing, agreed to seek more permanent shelter.

"I've been staying on him," Brown said. "Today just happened to be the day."

Along with Deputy Luke Hussey from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office homeless unit, Brown took Strieby to a hotel in Tampa, where he will stay until he can obtain more permanent housing through a Department of Veterans Affairs program. Tampa Crossroads is one of the local providers.


"I am making a little lifestyle change, because everybody kept on me about doing it," Strieby said with a hoarse laugh, over the phone in a room at a La Quinta Hotel. "T-Man took a couple of years to do it, I finally did it today."

Eventually, Strieby said, he would like to head north to Indiana to visit relatives. But for now, the hotel and later an apartment will do nicely.

I asked Strieby if he thinks the hotel will be more comfortable than the woods.

"You know the answer to that," he said, laughing again. "Out in the woods I have the animals — the hawks, squirrels, rabbits and coyotes. Here, I just have my two friends sitting here."

As for Brown, he couldn't be happier.

"It is a big day," he said. "I'm so overwhelmed. So excited. Getting him off the street is like getting three or four people off the streets in one day."


The Pentagon announced no new deaths on ongoing operations last week.

Sergeant Major Christopher Nelms, 46, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, died July 1 from wounds received while performing military free-fall training in Laurinburg, N.C. He was assigned to Headquarters, United States Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 52 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel; 55 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one troop death in support of Operation Joint Guardian, one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; one death in Operation Octave Shield and six deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.