Homeless WWII veteran, 90, now has a place to call home

A homeless 90-year-old World War II veteran who was living out of his car now has a place to come home to.

Last week, Wichita police Officer Robert Bachman found Charles Johnson living out of his car, which no longer worked, in 90-degree weather. The car sat in a lot next to Peniston Automotive on Central.

“He was homeless, waiting for his car to get fixed – waiting for the end of the month to get his checks in to get his car fixed,” Bachman said. “He said, ‘I’m doing good for a 90-year-old man.’ 

Bachman contacted Officer Nate Schwiethale, who leads the Wichita Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team.

The officers discovered that Johnson had permission to be in the lot and was doing yard work to return the favor to Peniston Automotive.

“He showed me a pile of limbs and trees that he had collected to help out the automotive place – they allowed him to stay in their parking lot and would help him out until he had a car repair,” Schwiethale said. “In that kind of heat at his age, who knows what could have happened.”

Schwiethale said Johnson is the oldest homeless man he has run into on the streets – and a veteran.

“He wanted a shower – he had been in that car a couple weeks, and he hadn’t showered. He wanted some food,” Schwiethale said. “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.”

While Johnson was at the day shelter, Veterans Administration outreach veterans took him to get medical treatment for minor issues. He spent four days in the hospital.

Jennifer Garrison, CEO and co-founder of Passageways, which provides a home and food to veterans, said, “We dropped everything. … I got back with Officer Nate and said … ‘We can make this happen right now.’

“The VA transported him out to our house, and I was there to meet and greet him,” she said. “He was thrilled. This was a house, it wasn’t an institution – it wasn’t a sterile environment; this was a home.”

Johnson received a grand tour and got to pick out his own bedroom.

“It took him honestly a while to wrap his head around it,” Garrison said. “We are so lucky he is with us today thanks to the police department finding him.”

After hearing about Johnson through a Wichita Police Department Facebook post, the Wichita community paid for car parts to get his car fixed, and Peniston Automotive completed the labor for free, Schwiethale said.

“He served our country in World War II,” he said. “There’s no reason for a vet to be homeless.”

Johnson, originally from Tulsa, now plans to stay in Wichita.

“We are going to help him find an apartment with the help of Salvation Army and the VA,” Garrison said. “We will furnish his apartment top to bottom, and Two Men and a Truck will move him for free.”

Kaitlyn Alanis: 316-268-6213, @KaitlynAlanis

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