The chance encounter that changed the course of this veteran’s life

Veteran Richard Pajula was living on the street. Then a stranger asked him if he was OK

SANFORD, Fla. – Carl Tipton will tell you proudly that he was born and raised in Sanford. He enjoys walking and dining in the historic downtown area. But back in July after leaving one of his favorite restaurants, he saw something that made him stop in his tracks.

“I was walking slowly and in a little cubby I saw an elderly gentleman. He was sitting on his walker,” Tipton said, remembering how the man looked well dressed. But it was the big red suitcase, worn bible and the look on his face that caught Tipton’s attention. “He just looked lost.”

That man was veteran Richard Pajula.

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Pajula had been homeless for more than two years. Each night he would curl up on a bench at the Sanford Marina.

“I just said, 'Hey are you OK?” Tipton said.

The two struck up a conversation and learned they both have strong Christian faith. Tipton then learned a little more about how Pajula ended up there.

Turns out, Pajula was living on a fixed income that didn’t leave much room for both rent and living expenses. The independent minded Pajula began living out of his van then eventually on the streets.

“I can’t live on $300,” Pajula said. “That’s the reason why I would never go and pay rent.”

Tipton offered to help him find an affordable place to stay.

“I snapped a picture of him sitting there because I knew it would be powerful,” Tipton said. “I put it on Facebook and sent a blurb out.”

What happened next surprised the Seminole County Sheriff’s deputy.

“It blew me away,” Tipton said. “People in the community would not let a veteran suffer.”

The fundraiser, generated by the social media site, raised enough money to eventually pay for a gently used 37-foot RV.

“Wouldn’t you be happier living in a place like this?” Pajula asks, looking around his living room. “I write songs, I watch TV. I have three or four songs going right now,” Pajula said proudly.

Pajula said he can now relax. He has a comfortable recliner, a roof over his head and a lakefront view. His RV sits on a donated lot right next to a small lake.

“I’ve been a dreamer all my life,” Pajula said. “That means I dream about things and I write songs. It’s as simple as that.”

Tipton and Pajula have become close friends. Tipton stops by regularly and the two even go to church together.

“God has given him a gift to write Christian music,” Tipton said. “He’s writing all these lyrics and they’re amazing, they’re uplifting, they’re encouraging.”

Tipton was nominated for the News 6 Getting Results Award by viewer, Carlos Merlino. “If there’s anybody who deserves an award for getting results it’s definitely him,” Merlino said.

Tipton said he hopes others will find inspiration in what can happen if you just stop and ask if someone is OK.

“I don’t think I did anything special,” Tipton said. “I think I just answered the call.”

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