PALO ALTO, Calif. - A Bay Area Marine veteran who recently had his home and almost everything he owned stolen, has been working to get back on his feet, after the theft triggered a series of unfortunate events and challenges.
Last month, Johnny Wilson said that he returned home from a trip, to find his self designed mobile tiny home had been stolen from its parked location in Palo Alto.
The 35-year-old vet said he contacted police and submitted a theft report, but he said, "the damage is already done." And he's been left with this question to the thieves: "For what?"
Beyond the loss of his home, the thieves took most everything and anything of value to him – from his old Marine Corps uniforms, to his medals, and perhaps the hardest thing to recover: his identity.
"My whole life was in my tiny home - from my SSN card, birth certificate, and tax documents, to even some of my sentimental things like my old uniforms and campaign medals," Wilson said in his GoFundMe page, noting because his social security number and other personal information were taken, "For an extra kick, I am currently dealing with identity theft issues."
Johnny Wilson reported his converted tiny home stole in Palo Alto on April 2, 2022. (Johnny Wilson/GoFundMe)
After purchasing the 7-by-16 foot cargo trailer outright with cash, he had slowly worked on the vehicle, to turn it into a home.
The vet reported that he left his home parked in the 3800 block of Fabian Way for about a week, while he went on vacation. And when he returned on April 2, it was gone. Police told KTVU the trailer remained outstanding and that investigators had received no new leads in the case.
Wilson said he was crushed.
"… almost everything I own has been stolen from me. Imagine coming home to find your house destroyed by a fire or other weather event and having to start from nowhere—that is where I find myself today," Wilson said, noting that he didn’t even have insurance to help him recoup his losses.
Wilson, who's originally from Missouri, came out to Southern California after graduating from high school to join the Marines. He served from 2006-2010 and was deployed twice: First to Iraq and then another tour on a ship in the Pacific.
After retiring from the Marines, he found himself in the Bay Area, enrolled in the College of San Mateo and earned an Associate Degree in general engineering technology.
That landed him a job as a calibration technician at an environmental tech company in the Bay Area. With the cost of housing so high, Wilson found that his converted trailer was the solution to his housing needs.
"Though it wasn't much, it did get the job done and provided me with a place to sleep and stay out of the weather," he said.
Following the theft of his home, he was forced to sleep in his truck for about a week.
He said he then fell ill, testing positive for COVID-19 and had to recuperate in a more comfortable environment, so he checked into a hotel for a couple of weeks.
Prior to the entire ordeal, Wilson said he had put in his resignation notice at his current workplace, after landing a job at a new company.
But the effects of the theft got in the way of his plans. Just as the new position was set to get finalized, the company rescinded its job offer, he explained to KTVU. Due to the thieves stealing his identity, Wilson found his personal information was a mess and his background check for the new position did not go through. He was forced to freeze his credit to prevent further damage.
He then scrambled to try and retain his current job. He returned to his employer, explained the situation and asked for his job back, which the company ended up agreeing to do.
"I called them on a Thursday, and my last day was supposed to be that Friday," Wilson explained. "I’m especially lucky to have the job," he said with gratitude.
The trials he’s faced have taught him to be deeply appreciative for all that he still has, and the experience has also brought on a renewed "half glass full" perspective.
"Fortunately, I still have my job and truck, so I can still provide for myself," Wilson stressed. And he said he counted his blessings for that one suitcase he took on his trip before the theft, which provided him with clothes and other immediate necessities.
As for the uniforms and medals he lost: "Everything can be replaced," the vet said, noting that he’d been working with a friend in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs who has helped him get copies of his military service records in an effort to replace stolen paperwork and his lost medals.
He did acknowledge, though, that there were some things that were gone forever and could never be replaced. "The nostalgia when it was given to me, I can't get back," Wilson said.
He also humorously noted that the silver linings were everywhere. "I had clothes, I was hoping to [eventually] fit back into them -- military uniforms, I was hoping to lose weight. Now I don't have to deal with that," he joked, while adding, "It’s really easy to move, because I have nothing to move."
But as positive as he tried to be, as the hits kept coming, and said he came to a point where he felt that he just couldn't catch a break.
"I had run out of everything I could do mentally and physically," he said, noting that he came to the realization, "Something needs to change."
And that’s what spurred him to set up his GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $20,000. He said it was a rough estimate to cover the loss of the trailer, as well as all of the stolen possessions inside the home, including valuable construction tools.
Wilson said at that moment of desperation he thought, "Anything is going to help at this point."
The call for help did provide a new start for the former military serviceman and got him off the streets. Wilson has used some of the donations to secure a room to rent in San Leandro for temporary housing. As of Monday, the GoFundMe had raised more than $9,600.
But his main objective now was to have his own place again. "Any money you can share with me will go to find a new home for me," he said, "whether it's building a new tiny house, buying something that is already livable, or helping pay for rent if I can find a place in this terrible housing market."
Wilson admitted it was very difficult to seek assistance but said he knew he had to swallow his pride if he wanted to back on his feet.
"I'm not one to ask for help; as a Marine Veteran, I've always tried to be willing to give anything to help others," Wilson said, adding, "but I hope my community can help me out."
Wilson's GoFundMe can be found here.