"These years should be comfortable," says April Wittbort, who has helped raise over $4,000 to support Stewart Eaton
Strangers in Indiana have come to the rescue of a Marine veteran who has been living out of his car since a 2020 fire destroyed his home.
Although Stewart Eaton owns his small property, he has been living in his car since his home burned down as he does not have home insurance to fix it, April Wittebort, who launched a GoFundMe campaign to help, tells PEOPLE.
The veteran now spends most days parked in his driveway in a car filled with his belongings, according to The Herald-Times.
"He’s 76 years old and a marine vet during the Vietnam war," she tells PEOPLE. "He needs a place to lay down and be able to shower, cook and just relax."
"These years should be comfortable," she says.
Wittebort shares that the 6-foot-tall man has been living in a Ford Fusion and that he has diabetes, shingles and other health issues.
She came across Eaton's story in a post he wrote in a local Facebook group called "Bloomington, IN - What's Going On?", she told the newspaper.
Officials in Monroe County were calling on him to clear out his lot of debris and trash, or else he could face fines, the newspaper reported.
Monroe County attorney Justin Roddye told PEOPLE in a statement that there had been an ongoing issue of "solid waste accumulation" on Eaton’s property — years before the fire.
"This particular case was filed in 2007. It came to our attention recently that Mr. Eaton had again allowed solid waste to accumulate on his property in violation of a Court Order," he added. "As a result of this accumulation of solid waste, our office filed a contempt motion with the Court. Historically, Mr. Eaton has been unwilling to keep the property free of solid waste without pending Court action."
"This has happened several times over the life of this case," Roddye said. "This is the Sixth Motion for Rule to Show Cause we have filed in this case due to Mr. Eaton’s failure to comply with the Court’s Orders. On several other occasions the property was cleared of the solid waste only to be filled again shortly thereafter. In many of these instances, the solid waste attracted rodents and other animals creating a health hazard for Mr. Eaton as well as his neighbors."
"We recently discovered some of the solid waste on the property may have been removed by Mr. Eaton and other individuals," the statement added. "We are in the process of verifying this information. The County’s primary concern is that Mr. Eaton’s property remain free of solid waste. We have requested sanctions in the form of monetary civil penalties. However, if Mr. Eaton has removed the solid waste, such fact would weigh heavily on any request we would have for civil penalties."
According to The Herald-Times, a court hearing over the property's condition is scheduled for Tuesday.
"If there is a commercial outfit that is reliable that somebody could recommend, I would appreciate your input," Eaton wrote, per the paper. "Or if there are any Christian or God-fearing people that could lend an hour of time to help me do as ordered, I would be extremely grateful."
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Wittebort told The Herald-Times she wondered why no one helped and decided to reach out to the stranger.
She eventually drove to find Eaton and found him asleep in his car, according to the report. Wittebort knocked on his window and introduced herself, saying, "How can I help you?"
At first, he wasn't reportedly sure he wanted Wittebort's help, but soon fellow veteran Mike Kelly offered to help too.
Wittebort, Kelly and another man named Ryan Mader collected the 76-year-old's stuff, filled Kelly's pickup truck with over 2,500 lbs. of debris and brought it to a dump, per the report.
For Eaton, who spends most of his time parked in his driveway, the experience has been humbling, according to the paper. "It must have been the hand of God," he said.
Still, there have been some setbacks, Wittebort admits. She tells PEOPLE that she initially thought a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer "would do to get him out of his tiny car," but she says she was told by Monroe County officials he could only live in the trailer for 180 days.
"That’s just too temporary," she says,
"I’m working with the housing authority to get Stewart into something temporary for now and working with top tier roofing on designing a tiny cabin that would be more sustainable for him … something that could last the rest of his life," Wittebort adds.
Still, Wittbort is grateful that they've been able to raise over $4,600 thanks to the GoFundMe campaign.
"So amazing so unbelievable to me that this many people share my goal and hopes :)," she wrote in an update on the fundraiser last week.
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