In Memory Of Homeless Advocate Larry Dean Milligan

by on December 28, 2011 · 8 comments

in Civil Rights, Homelessness, San Diego

Johanna Argoud and Larry Dean Milligan

Editor: Larry Dean Milligan was a champion of homeless people in San Diego. Through his efforts and the efforts of his partner, Johanna Argoud, the lawsuit, Spencer v. San Diego was filed in 2004 and settled in 2007. (and then modified 11/10) The settlement in Spencer protected homeless people from fines and arrests relating to sleeping in public – a very important settlement for thousands of homeless people in San Diego. Below is a conversation between Christine Schanes and Johanna Argoud.

Christine: On July 14, 2011, your partner, Larry Dean Milligan, champion of homeless people, passed. You seem content despite your loss.

Johanna: Yes, you could say that. I feel that his life is such a gift to me. And despite the physical separation from Lar, I don’t have the feeling of being without him, unless I choose to. I can always have that joy of being with Lar, a feeling of being even closer than in our physical life together, if I so choose.

CS: Can you share something about your life?

JA: Of course. I am sharing this because Lar and I are part of the oneness that includes the reader and all of humanity.

On April 26, 1932, I was born in Sharpsville, PA. When I was three years old, my parents and I moved to Germany. I had a wonderful childhood in the small town of Stockach. My friends and I would go into the forest to pick berries. We would make visits to the Catholic Church, roller skate in the streets and toboggan in the snow.

I was brought up Catholic and enjoyed reading the stories of the saints, especially the martyrs. I admired their courage and that they gave their lives for God. I asked myself whether I would have the courage to give my life for God.

In the Spring of 1953, I married my husband, George Argoud, in San Diego, California. Together, we had five children. I worked so my husband could go to medical school in Switzerland. In one of my jobs, I worked as a secretary for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. After my husband graduated, we came back to the United States where he practiced medicine.

When George and I divorced in 1982, I felt that I had fallen into a deep hole. I just couldn’t get out. I thought my life was falling apart. My marriage… five kids. I asked, “What is the purpose of life? Who am I? Where Did I come from?”

I found refuge in meditation. I had a room built in the back of my home to be a meditation place and my meditation group met there. One day my meditation group discussed doing something to help homeless people in San Diego.  I just felt that was for me. So, I put a small ad in the San Diego paper that read, “San Diegans Help the Homeless” with my telephone numbe

There was just one call as a result of my ad. The caller said that if I wanted to do anything to help homeless people that I should call Larry Milligan and he gave me Lar’s number.  I called the number, spoke to Lar and agreed to meet him the next day at the local bookstore. I told Lar that I could only be interested in helping homeless people if we regarded them with the greatest respect because as Jesus said, “What you do the least of them, you do to me.”

Before we parted, Lar said to me, “I’m ready for a relationship.

I said, “Only a spiritual one.

He didn’t say anything. It didn’t seem to stop him.  So I began going to the weekly meetings where Lar and homeless people met. I could see that Lar was a leader who asked everyone to participate in the meeting equally. However, he did not put himself on a pedestal – that impressed me.

For over ten years, Lar and I served food twice a week to homeless people in Balboa Park and also at the Lutheran Church. Later on other people joined us in this effort. Lar conducted hunger strikes and we had peaceful demonstrations to bring attention to the issues of homelessness.

One of our major concerns was the criminalization of the act of sleeping in public because there was not enough room in the shelters for every homeless person in San Diego. As a result of our efforts, the case of Spencer v. City of San Diego was filed in 2004. When the case settled in 2007, homeless people could sleep on public property at night without being subject to fine or arrest.

[In November 2010, the settlement agreement in Spencer v. City of San Diego was modified so that a homeless person can be fined or arrested if a police officer offers his or her an available shelter bed within a five miles and he or she chooses to decline the bed.]

Because of our activities to help homeless people, Lar and I had numerous encounters and a wide variety of relationships with individuals and groups at the national and local levels, including City authorities, the police and the press.

On September 8, 2009, Lar was the recipient of a lung transplant. For the next three and a half weeks, Lar was in a coma. While I was grateful that he was alive, I took refuge in finding that space where I could feel at one with him.  When Lar awoke from his coma, he told me that no matter how much he loved me, he hadn’t wanted to come back from that place that was so peaceful and absolutely beyond description.

He said, “I hope you’re not angry with me.”

I told him, “Of course not, no one would want to come back from there.”

About two years after his surgery, Lar became seriously ill with pneumonia. One day he said to me, “I want to be with you in eternity.”

I said, “I will always be with you.”  I experienced an indescribable feeling of communion.

When Lar passed, somehow I had the sense to take refuge in that place where we had been as one in our meditation. And somehow his passing was not real to me because in that space he was one with me.

Now when thoughts come to me about him, I come to a place we enjoyed together. When I read his poetry or I listen to the songs he loved, I never fail to take refuge to be with him in that space. I marvel and it never ceases to amaze me that I am so much a part of him and he a part of me in that oneness. All the years of meditation had given me that space.

In 2005, Lar wrote Love Poem to Joanna and she sent it to me. I share part of it with you now.

I’m just right here.

In thoughts of life

Never to be changed.

Thinking of the times we gave

Serving each other.

No, love can never be rearranged

And someday death will sweetly come.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar TRICIA December 28, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Thank you Christine for this article.You will find nothing like this written anywhere else but the OB Rag.

It is very sad and upsetting to me.The homeless seem to be one of the most marginalized
members of our society.
It is refreshing to know that there are others out there willing to give them a voice, and that not all of us simply look away and pretend that they do not exist.

Thank you!


avatar Christine Schanes December 28, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Hi, Tricia,

Thanks for your comment.

I agree with you that the OB Rag covers topics that may not be found elsewhere. And I am very grateful to the OB Rag for that.

Thank you also for your compassion for homeless people.

Why do you think that some of us “simply look away and pretend that [homeless people] do not exist?”

I’m interested in your thoughts.



avatar TRICIA January 1, 2012 at 10:47 pm

In my opinion, those that look away ( and I think it’s a large segment of society ) feel it is not their problem or obligation to help in anyway.They feel that the homeless got that way due to something they did.And that the shelters or food kitchens will or should help.The homeless are seen as bums, drug addicts,alcoholics, and frankly as I was told in an online discussion- “the dregs of society”.If you don’t look like society expects you to, then you will be ignored.You will not exist .You are not my problem.It is not our problem to deal with, so maybe they will just go away.Let Father Joe take care of them.What alot of people forget is that these “dregs or bums” are someone’s son or daughter, mother or father.Someone’s neighbor.And the worse thing you can do to anyone is make them feel invisible. Thank you Christine…


avatar Christine Schanes January 2, 2012 at 11:38 am

Hi, Tricia,

Thanks for your comment. You have said a great deal in your comment and I agree with everything you’ve said. In fact, I’ve written a lot about the myths of homelessness – 21 articles so far and more to come.

Can you share how you’ve learned all of this?

Whatever I’ve learned has taken me over twenty years and continues to this day.

Happy New Year!



avatar tricia January 12, 2012 at 5:19 am

Hi Christine,
Sorry it has taken me so long to reply…..a lot has been going on.I have learned most of the above because I have lived it.I have been on both sides of the aisle.A good paying job, nice place to live, a new car to drive.Then in an instant it seems, it was all gone.And you find yourself where you never thought you would.Alone, and living in a strange cold place, a situation that only happens to other people.I was one of those who did in fact look away.I wasn’t cruel, but I certainly wasn’t going to try to find a solution either.
Then you get a wake up call.No place to go.No one to help.I used to recycle to feed myself and my two cats, that also found themselves homeless due to my lay off and of course other bad choices ( not saving for a rainy day).As long as I was not carrying bags of plastics and cans, people were nice and cordial to me.If I was walking with the bags, they looked down, and simply ignored me.I never asked anyone for money, and tried to keep a low profile.Maybe that’s how they – we- become invisable.
Spend weeks hiding in a park, cleaning up with only what you have, and try to keep your pets comforted- it is quite humbling.Maybe if each of us were put in that situation we would all have more compassion.Like the quote-never judge a man until you have walked in his shoes- is so true.


avatar Christine Schanes January 12, 2012 at 11:50 am


Sometimes the only way to wisdom is through experience. And, in my opinion, you have certainly gained much wisdom from your experience. Or perhaps you were born with this wisdom.

In any event, thank you for sharing with all of us. Hopefully, you are housed at this time.

Please stay in touch.
Best Wishes,


avatar ghjky January 1, 2012 at 5:46 am

Very touching. Not all homeless people are homeless because they are lazy. Its nice to know that some realize this. They don’t live in the streets becauze they like it. Mental hospitals were formed so certain groups could be used for experimentation, so were prisons,its easier to exploit those less fortunate.


avatar Christine Schanes January 2, 2012 at 11:47 am

Hi, ghjky,

Thanks for your comment.

Your thoughts raise many thoughts for me. As you point out, there are many myths about homelessness – that people are homeless because they are lazy; that they live in the streets because they like it and more.

Certainly, exploitation occurs everywhere and always needs to be exposed.

Please stay in touch.

Happy New Year!



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