Charles Johnson is 90-year-old World War II veteran who earned and deserves the respect of a grateful nation. Instead, Wichita police officer Robert Bachman found Johnson homeless, living in a broken down vehicle in 90-degree weather. That was too much for the local police officer, who immediately took action to help the veteran get the proper care and treatment he needed, including food, medical care, and permanent housing.
Despite being a WWII veteran, Johnson has been homeless and living out of his car since September of 1988. He would visit the library to use the computer for reading the news, go to the laundromat to wash his clothes, and visit elsewhere to shower. Then recently his car broke down completely and he was stuck living in it during the hot Kansas summer temperatures without air or other basic necessities.
Officer Robert Bachman came across Johnson in his vehicle, and when he found out that he was a homeless veteran, he immediately contacted fellow police officer Nate Schwiethale to get Johnson some help. Officer Schwiethale, Wichita Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team coordinator, said, “In that kind of heat at his age, who knows what could have happened.”
Officers Bachman and Schwiethale started taking care of him right away, starting with the basic needs. “He wanted a shower — he had been in that car a couple weeks, and he hadn’t showered. He wanted some food,” said Schwiethale. “I gave him some food and water, and then I got him in my vehicle and I transported him to a day shelter in order to get a shower and also do laundry.”
After getting a good meal and a shower at the shelter, outreach veterans from the VA picked him up and took him to a hospital for four days for some minor medical treatment.
They then called Jennifer Garrison, CEO of Passageways, a non-profit organization that helps homeless veterans in the area. Passageways has an eight-room house where homeless veterans can stay in their own room — with food provided — while they get back on their feet and find an apartment of their own.
“We dropped everything. …I got back with Officer Nate and said, ‘We can make this happen right now,'” said Jennifer Garrison. “The VA transported him out to our house, and I was there to meet and greet him. He was thrilled. This was a house, it wasn’t an institution — it wasn’t a sterile environment; this was a home.”
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The 90-year-old WWII veteran is now living in the room of his choice at Passageways while he gets things in order. He is already looking for his own apartment — the first stable living place he will have had in nearly 30 years. “We are going to help him find an apartment with the help of Salvation Army and the VA,” Garrison said, adding that when the time comes, “We will furnish his apartment top to bottom, and Two Men and a Truck will move him for free.”
When the rest of the community heard about the veteran’s situation via a post on the Wichita Police Department North Bureau’s Facebook page, support came pouring in. Donations were made to buy all of the parts needed to fix Johnson’s car, and the repair shop, Peniston Automotive, did all of the labor for free so that Johnson could get his car right away and not need to worry about paying for that while he gets back on his feet.
“He served our country in World War II,” said Officer Schwiethale. “There’s no reason for a vet to be homeless.”
Watch the full story in the video below! Then click the link beneath it to help house homeless veterans!
Jacob H. is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist who currently resides is West Michigan with his wife. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys writing, photography, mountain climbing, and camping.