Having a tough day at work? Economic doldrums got you down?
The story of Stephen Millhouse should cheer you up and provide some perspective.
Millhouse is an ex-Marine from Missoula, Montana, who went through a stretch of homelessness in 2005. Earlier this year, he was propelled by a family tragedy to do something to raise both money and awareness for the homeless and the organizations that support them.
He decided to walk from Missoula to Los Angeles, a 1,460-mile journey to the place where he became homeless. The distance is about how far a homeless person walks per year based on Millhouse’s estimate that homeless people typically cover 3-5 miles on foot per day. He left Missoula on Aug. 5, and has spent many harrowing stretches along shoulder-less roadways while lugging his camping gear and clothes on a single-wheel trailer attached to his waist.
We met the 53-year-old Millhouse at the Mill Valley-Sausalito Bike Path Tuesday afternoon. Despite being 1,000 miles into his solo journey through four states, and despite wearing a protective walking boot on his left foot because he fractured it along the way, Millhouse was in great spirits.
“I’m just paying it forward,” he said, noting that the VA’s Valor House, an apartment complex for veterans struggling with homelessness in Missoula, “was a godsend” for him in getting out of homelessness.
“It was a gradual thing for me,” he said. “I didn’t one day go from being employed and the next I’m eating out of garbage cans. I don’t think that’s the way it is for most people who become homeless.”
Millhouse certainly doesn't fit the stereotype. A former U.S. Marine, he's worked for the U.S. Postal Service and has been a Missoula County sheriff's deputy and a clinical therapist. He moved to LA in 2003 to pursue acting, and after injuring his shoulder while working at a grocery store, he filed a worker’s compensation claim that languished long enough for him to eat through his savings and gradually found himself on the streets.
“I started living in my storage unit and then I started living in my car,” he said. “I was trusting that the system would work and it didn’t. I gave up on the dream and moved back to Montana but I was still homeless. And then I was able to connect with the Valor House.”
Millhouse, who is single with no children, had been working as a custodian for the past year at the Missoula Children’s Theatre. When Millhouse's 22-year-old niece Rachel Millhouse was killed by a drunk driver on Feb. 20, he found himself compelled to act.
“I wanted to do something positive to memorialize her,” he said. “My situation could have been way worse had it not been for the VA. Organizations like those and food pantries keep people and families from sinking even further.”
Before long and with the assistance of a number of friends and colleagues in Missoula, Millhouse was laying the groundwork for My One Man March and applying for grants. Although he’s only raised around $2,500 so far, he hopes to raise $1 million for programs addressing homelessness, hunger and food insecurity.
“I’m not asking people in these hard economic times to give me a lot of money,” he said. “I’m asking for 69,000 people to give me $14.16 - that works out to a million dollars - that’s a penny a mile!”
When asked about wearing a Green Bay Packers hat in 49ers country, he’s quick to note that he can be bought. The Packer was given to him a few weeks ago as his trusty Boston Red Sox hat had seen better days.
“If there are 1,000 Niner fans who donate $14.60 each, I will switch, no problem,” he said. “Same with the Raider fans.”
Millhouse doesn’t have a projected arrival date in Los Angeles, and given his broken foot, he’s admittedly slowed down a bit. He plans to spend the winter in LA and develop a presentation from the many photos, videos and anecdotes he’s collected from his time on the road as a way to showcase the project to potential donors.
And then he’ll do the walk back to Missoula.
Millhouse plans to head back along the same route by foot in the spring, visiting church, civic and service organizations to spread his message about homelessness and his plans to continue his campaign beyond his monumental journey.
“The end of the march will happen but the end of the project won’t,” he said.
For more information about Stephen Millhouse and My One Man March, check out his website. He headed into San Francisco today after three days in Marin. Follow him on his journey at his From the Road blog.