By Aaron Blevins, 1/12/2012
Former Marine Raises Money and Awareness
In order to garner a true appreciation of a person, they say to walk a mile in their shoes. Well, try 1,460 miles.
In hopes of raising awareness about homelessness, former U.S. Marine Stephen Millhouse trekked from Missoula, Mont., to Los Angeles on foot beginning Aug. 3. He arrived at Skid Row on Jan. 2, capping a four-state, 1,460-mile journey.
“It was an adventure — that’s for sure,” Millhouse said.
Having been homeless himself, the Missoula native sought to raise money, increase awareness and encourage volunteerism for those who are less fortunate. At 53, he has created a nonprofit organization, My One Man March, to help accomplish his goals.
“It was kind of weird how it all fell in place,” Millhouse said.
He said he served in the Marines from 1976 to 1980, and then went to school to get his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Millhouse said he became a psychiatrist, but soon discovered acting and moved to Los Angeles.
While pursuing his dream on his off time, he worked at a local grocery store, suffering a work-related rotator cuff injury in the process. Millhouse said he assumed the system would work and compensate him for his injuries. To date, he has yet to receive any worker’s compensation, though the dispute is ongoing, he said.
Three years went by, and Millhouse said he “slowly slid into homeless.” He said he went from living in his apartment to a storage unit to his car. Eventually, Millhouse moved back to Montana, “surviving” one winter on his family’s property in Missoula.
“That’s actually where it got really bad,” he added.
Millhouse said he stayed there for one year, and in 2008, he moved into an apartment complex specifically for homeless veterans. Then, he was approved for Section 8 housing, and took a part-time janitorial position at the local children’s theatre, where he’d worked previously.
In March, Millhouse said he came up with the My One Man March idea. He credited his desire to give back, as well as the tragic death of his 22-year-old niece, Rachel, who was killed in February by a drunk driver, for prompting the decision to walk to L.A. Millhouse said that according to a study he’s read, the average homeless person walks about 1,500 miles per year.
His family, friends and co-workers were supportive of the idea. Millhouse said he’s perceived by his family as the “crazy uncle” — in a lovable way — so the decision was not altogether uncharacteristic.
“They took it in stride,” he added.
After months of planning, Millhouse ventured out, bringing with him a Dixon Rollerpack that held a tent, a sleeping pad, clothes, a computer and digital camera, food and water. He said the rollerpack, a travois with one wheel, carried at most 80 pounds.
“If it wasn’t for that piece of equipment, I wouldn’t have made it out of Montana,” Millhouse added.
He took U.S. 93 from Missoula to Wells, Nev., then I-80 to San Francisco. Generally, Millhouse stayed on interstates or highways, but once he reached California he was forced onto secondary roads. Law enforcement and Good Samaritans — or “road angels,” as he called them — helped along the way or offered prayers, he said.
“I’d never had anybody pray for me,” Millhouse said. “It really hit me, and it was really humbling.”
While food wasn’t really a problem, water became an issue, he said. Though he didn’t dehydrate, Millhouse did suffer a stress fracture in his foot that turned into a full fracture. A VA hospital in Martinez, Calif., set him up with a walking boot that he wore until the finish line — the Los Angeles Catholic Workers (LACW) Hospitality Kitchen on Skid Row. Millhouse said he needs to have both of his feet checked out, and that he also pulled a muscle in his leg.
Perhaps equally aggravating, his computer broke along the way. Millhouse had been using it to map his routes and add photos to the My One Man March Facebook page. He had to rely on libraries for the rest of the trip.
Despite the hurdles, Millhouse reached L.A. on Jan. 2, and said he had never seen the city so empty — likely due to the Rose Bowl and the legal holiday. Several people, including a friend and the Dixon Rollerpack creator, walked the last eight miles with him, he said. A block from the finish line, he broke down.
“I hit this wall,” Millhouse said. “I asked them to go ahead of me, and I started to cry.”
He said it was “heavy,” the idea that his mission was accomplished, coupled with thoughts of his late niece. However, Millhouse still has more in store.
“I walked the walk, but the project’s not done,” he said.
The Missoula native said he’s willing to discuss his experience with an entity that will host him, whether it’s churches, neighborhood councils, city councils or nonprofit agencies. Millhouse also hopes to continue raising money, which will eventually be donated to agencies that help the homeless in the four states he visited. He’s raised $3,000 thus far. His adventure caught the eye of some media, but he hopes to continue to raise awareness as well.
“I’m just kind of going with the flow at this point,” Millhouse said.
In the interim, he’ll continue to help LACW, which has granted him a place to stay, with its homeless initiative. Millhouse spoke highly of the Hospitality Kitchen.
“Once you come inside, it’s a garden,” he said. “It’s like this oasis that is life-affirming.”
Millhouse said he plans to stay in the area for an additional seven months. For more information about My One Man March, visit www.myonemanmarch.org, or visit its Facebook page.