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One-man march moves through Paso

Modified: Tuesday, Dec 27th, 2011

Stephen Millhouse, a 53-year-old ex-Marine, is currently walking 1,460 miles from Missoula, Mont. to Los Angeles in an effort to raise $1 million for successful programs addressing hunger and homelessness in America. Photo by Hayley Thomas.

Chances are you didn’t notice Stephen Millhouse as he made his way slowly but steadily down Niblick Road last Monday toting a small trailer behind him. Sporting grayish stubble and a worn baseball cap, he looks more like your average transient than a man with a master’s degree in clinical psychology.

One Google search of his name, however, confirms that Millhouse is an extraordinary man on an extraordinary mission. He’s on a one-man march for the cause closest to his heart: Homelessness.

The 53-year-old ex-Marine is currently walking 1,460 miles from Missoula, Mont., to Los Angeles in an effort to raise $1 million for successful programs addressing hunger and homelessness in America.

According to Millhouse, living as a homeless veteran taught him lifelong lessons in gratitude, humility and compassion. Now he aims to give back, one step at a time.

When I met up with Millhouse outside of House of Bagels at the intersection of Spring Street and Niblick Road in Paso Robles, it was surprising to see he had what appeared to be a cast on his left foot. Then it occurred that he’d soon be making his way over the Cuesta Grade. It had just started to sprinkle, and the storm clouds looked ominous.

Millhouse, decked out in an athletic-looking weather proofed jacket, didn’t seem bothered by a little precipitation. It was day 133 of his journey.

“In Twin Falls [Idaho], my foot had been acting up, and since I’m a veteran they were able to send me to Boise, and they said ‘Oh yeah, you’ve got a marching fracture,” he said. “The doctor said to take some time off and quit walking.”

Long story short, Millhouse didn’t quit walking.

He soon found himself trudging through the desert of Nevada, carrying around 40 extra pounds of water in case of dehydration.

“Of course it rained,” Millhouse said with a chuckle, blue eyes shining.

“I was taking a break, and I was trying to put my swollen foot back in the shoe and I heard a pop, but I didn’t put two and two together,” he said. “I walked all the way down to Reno, where I got to another V.A. hospital and the doctor took an X-ray and said it was fractured, but starting to heal.”

That doctor gifted Millhouse a pair of boots to get him up and over Donner Pass. He was also given a soft, Velcro cast he’s now wearing to support his injury.

A picture on Millhouse’s blog, www.myonemanmarch.com, shows a photo of the X-ray as well as allows supporters to see what towns Millhouse is making his way through at any given time. He blogs about his thoughts and feelings from his laptop, currently on the fritz.

You might ask, “Why 1,460 miles?” According to Millhouse’s blog, research shows that an average homeless person walks between three and five miles per day in search of shelter, food, water, health care services and other things required to live.

The activist has been homeless twice in his life, once in Los Angeles and once in Montana – hence, the route he’s taking.

“The homeless don’t get a day off. They walk every day. I know I did,” he said. “So I took a four-mile-per-day average, multiplied it by 365 days. It comes to 1,460 miles in a year. That then became my target.”

Millhouse is currently averaging about 16 miles a day, “stealth camping” wherever he can along the way. He said he’s on “the home stretch,” which seems impossibly positive, considering he’s still got a few hundred miles to go.

Seeing the positive in dire situations may be one of Millhouse’s biggest strengths.

“I’ve got to stay positive,” he said. “King City was the worst, you hit a wall. I feel like I’m in quicksand and not making progress. Not just in miles, but in not getting the donations we need,” he said, adding that he’s raised just $2,500 bucks so far of the $1 million goal.

However, Millhouse still plans to drive through Los Angeles sharing his message and raising funds once his march is through.

“Although the march will be over, the awareness and participation will take over,” he said. “To me, participation is the biggest goal. Awareness is great, but getting people involved in the biggest goal.”

Millhouse has two reasons to be motivated. His niece was recently killed by a drunk driver, which spurred him into thinking about what he’d like to accomplish in his own life. Second, Millhouse spent six years homeless, and he wants to pay it forward.

He said that if it weren’t for the V.A. and a slew of other programs, his situation would have been a lot worse.

“They saved my bacon, and that’s kind of how the thing got started,” he said. “But it wasn’t like I was fine one day and homeless the next. I kind of slid into [homelessness].”

That downward slide goes back about 20 years to New York City, where Millhouse was working as an actor and first posed as a homeless person as part of a visual art piece. At this time, he’d never lived on the streets or spent a day of his life begging for food.

“I was shaking my cup and this woman walks by and moves on. Next thing I know, she came back and had a dollar. Her face was lit with this great smile, and she put it in the cup, nodded and left again,” said Millhouse. “She wasn’t rich. She either had to go and get the dollar or had it and changed her mind. I was humbled because I was out there pretending as an actor and she was giving out of the goodness of her heart.”

From then on, Millhouse always gave money, time and some friendly conversation to the local homeless. Living in Los Angeles, he volunteered at a soup kitchen on skid row.

Little did he know he’d end up in a similar situation.

“I had a workers comp injury and thought it would resolve itself. Spent money, spent money, and then I was living out of storage, and then I living out of my car, and then I was forced to live back in Montana,” he said.

Millhouse spent one winter squatting in an old, primitive cabin, but couldn’t handle a second winter.

“I didn’t even know I had V.A. benefits until the worker’s comp doctors told me,” he said. Although Millhouse didn’t see combat in the military, he recognizes that a disproportionate amount of service men and women – from Vietnam vets to Iraq soldiers fresh from the battle field – are at risk of becoming homeless.

“You see people on the streets and you think they’re dirty, it’s their fault, they’re alcoholics or involved in crime,” said Millhouse. “But you think of veterans, and you live on the streets for two years and see if you don’t have post traumatic stress disorder symptoms.”

Those are the people Millhouse walks for.

The soldiers were mentally ill, unfortunate and world-weary. He wants to spread the message that homelessness can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender or status. He hopes to lessen the stigma.

For the complete article see the 12-27-2011 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 12-27-2011 paper.

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