He was “hard headed” and stubborn. But he also was a generous person who would give someone in need the shirt off his own back.
That’s how former Army Staff Sgt. Thomas “T-Man” Brown described homeless veteran Randall Strieby, who died on Sept. 3 from pneumonia at the age of 68.
For the past six years, Brown was on a mission to convince Strieby — known as “Roofing Randy” — to secure permanent housing and leave the woods in Hillsborough County in Florida. As the president of Tampa Homeless Outreach in Florida and a veteran outreach coordinator for Tampa Crossroads, Brown’s job focuses on finding homeless veterans permanent housing.
Brown, who says his main goal is finding safe shelter for homeless veterans, routinely seeks out the homeless and provides them with materials they need. That’s how he first met Strieby in the woods near Apollo Beach, a small waterfront community south of Tampa.
Although Brown initially tried to convince him to leave the woods, Strieby wasn’t ready to do so after being homeless since 1998. But Brown started to regularly check in on the Army vet, who claimed he served from 1973 to 1977.
“There was just something about him, we just grew,” Brown said. “And I talked to him about my military history and [he’d] tell me about his, and about why he became homeless.”
“I didn’t judge him one way or the other, you know, we’d just talk,” Brown said.
Brown said that he would take people to meet Strieby in the woods during ride alongs in his truck.
“For somebody that was in the situation that he was in, he was always upbeat,” Brown said.
At one point, it appeared Strieby would seek a more permanent living situation. In August 2018, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Strieby had gone to a hotel and was planning to get an apartment.
"I am making a little lifestyle change, because everybody kept on me about doing it," Strieby said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "T-Man took a couple of years to do it, I finally did it today."
But according to Brown, Strieby returned to the woods soon after. Earlier this year, he was planning to move to Indiana to be with family. Since Strieby didn’t want to fly, and didn’t have a driver’s license, Brown took a week off from work to drive him.
Brown was in touch with Strieby’s Indiana family coordinating the exact date that he would arrive with Strieby when the family notified him that Strieby was welcome to visit — but not stay permanently.
Strieby was distraught that he wouldn’t rejoin his family, said Brown, who was tasked with giving his homeless friend the bad news. The family brushoff was so devastating that Streiby opted to stay in the woods after the incident.
Brown said Strieby resisted his efforts to line up more permanent housing because he was “hard headed.” The Tampa Bay Times also reported Strieby pushed back on securing permanent shelter because he wanted to remain close to his job, where he worked as a roofer.
“I’m not the type of person that gives up,” Brown said. “He was stubborn and I’m still stubborn and I was determined to get him housing.”
After plans to head to Indiana fell through, Strieby continued to live in the woods until he was hospitalized about three weeks ago after experiencing several seizures. He was discharged from the hospital and sent to a rehabilitation facility, but showed signs of breathing difficulties shortly after arriving at the facility. He died late Saturday from pneumonia, according to Brown.
“He was like a brother to me,” Brown said.
“We’ve been through a lot, he and I,” Brown added. “I really miss him.”
A memorial service will be held in Indiana, but it’s unclear when it will take place.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are more than 40,000 homeless veterans each night. Out of the entire homeless population, approximately 11 percent are veterans, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
“If you see a homeless vet that is on the street, thank them for their service and don’t be disrespectful to them,” Brown said. “Because they’re human just like everybody else.”