When Larry Milligan's excited he almost levitates—he carries his weight on the balls of his feet and moves as fast as he talks. Holding a mic in one hand and punctuating his words with the other, last Thursday he told the 200-plus residents at the city's winter homeless shelter that they'd won.
“The ultimate goal was that this would change consciousness,” said Milligan, who fasted in 2004 and again last fall to draw attention to how tough it is to be homeless in San Diego and find a place to sleep.
Milligan, a longtime advocate for the homeless, died July 14 after a long struggle with lung disease. A memorial service was held this morning at First Lutheran Church, home of the Third Avenue Charitable Organization, a homeless-outreach effort.
Larry could be a persistent, charismatic pain in the ass when it came to drawing attention to homelessness issues. I first met him when he went on a hunger strike to get police to stop ticketing the homeless for illegal lodging—he'd set up a chair just outside the entrance to City Hall. He gave up the hunger strike only after two attorneys, Tim Cohelan and Scott Dreher, agreed to file a lawsuit against the city, arguing that sleep is a biological need and ticketing people who have no place else to sleep but on the street is cruel and unusual punishment. On March 6, 2007, the City Council agreed to a settlement (that people could sleep on public property between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.) and on March 7, Larry was at the winter homeless shelter to give the good news.
But his persistence also won him the respect of law enforcement. Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long eulogized Larry this morning and recalled their first meeting. Years ago, when he was a new patrol sergeant assigned to Downtown, Long heard about a "crazy guy" who was handing out pizza to the homeless. He pulled up in his squad car in time to see an officer spraying Larry in the face with pepper spray.
"We dusted him off, I spent some time with him," Long said. "He didn't say, 'I want that cop's badge number' or 'I want to file a complaint.'" Instead, he wanted to talk to the officer.
"This is the type of man that he was. If there was a conflict he wanted to resolve it," Long said. "He absolutely put everybody else first. He put himself second."
Larry's partner, Johanna Argoud, spoke briefly, but eloquently summed up what the man she described as her soul mate was all about.
"If we're willing to open our hearts to each other, it will be the beginning of the end of homelessness."