Pontiac Homeless World War II vet, 97, finds new place to live

By Dave Phillips

The Oakland Press

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) -- Nearly nine decades into his life, World War II veteran Johnnie Richburg found himself living in a car outside of Pontiac City Hall.

Richburg, 87, was out on the streets after being evicted from his home. He said he was paying rent and has receipts to back up the claim, but it is believed that the person who accepted the money actually stole it. When it was cold, Richburg would cough up $39.41 to stay at a local motel. When warmer temperatures arrived, to save money, he'd park his Chevrolet Impala in the parking lot near the Pontiac substation of the Oakland County Sheriff's Office.

But thanks to private donations and the Community Housing Network, based in Troy, Richburg has more than a car roof over his head. He recently moved in to the Pontiac-Bloomfield Hills Townhouses.

Community Housing Network is a "nonprofit organization committed to providing homes for people in need," according to the organization's website. "That car, I love it, but I can't compare it with this," Richburg said as he moved into his new home.

The U.S. Air Force veteran had been living out of his vehicle for at least a week, and likely much longer.

"I got permission to stay up there," Richburg said. "Don't nobody bother me up there. I go to the waiting room sometimes to watch a little TV (inside the substation)."

As for food, Richburg lived off a steady diet of McDonald's.

"McDonald's is right across the street," he said. "McDonald's is all I eat, hamburgers and all that."

Pontiac Community Development Specialist Tuesday Redmond, who works at City Hall, noticed Richburg was living in the parking lot and attempted to get him some help.

"It's just not right," Redmond said.

"Part of this man's life, he's been taken advantage of. He didn't know where to go to get any assistance."

Redmond contacted the Community Housing Network, which sent a team headed by LaVonne Spivey to gather information.

Richburg slipped through the cracks of the organization's programs, but the group was able to find him a home through private donations.

"Living in a car (as) a 90-year-old war veteran is not a sustainable life," Marylynn Hewitt, community relations manager for Community Housing Network, said.

"There are so many programs out there, but he just fell through the cracks."

Meanwhile, Community Housing Network is looking in to exactly why Richburg was evicted from his apartment.

"He had receipts that reflect his payment was received," a news release states.

"There is a suspicion that the person who took the funds on behalf of the property basically stole the money. He can afford the monthly payment (for the new residence), but did not have the upfront funding for the initial payment."

Records indicate that Richburg lost a home that he purchased with the GI Bill because of unpaid taxes.

Richburg's grandmother brought him to Pontiac when he was 15. In 1943, he joined the U.S. Air Force, where he drove ammunition to the front lines in Okinawa, Japan, during World War II.

The Community Housing Network is still seeking more help for Richburg. According to a news release, he needs a vision test and furniture. His problems are exacerbated by the fact that he does not have medical insurance or a license.

Those interested in helping Richburg can visit the Community Housing Network's website at communityhousingnetwork.org. Donations can be specifically earmarked for Richburg or any of the organization's programs.

Published: Wed, May 9, 2012