Sean McMillan is a father of four, an advanced soccer referee, a licensed coach, a former chess master, and in his spare time works as owner broker of Heyler Realty. He is also President of West LA Homeless.
A third generation Angeleno, Sean raised his family within a mile of the home his grandfather lived in 1927. Several locations around Westwood and Cheviot Hills show his name etched in the sidewalk cement. He takes great pride in cultivating community and in particular community outreach. He is a co-founder of the Santa Monica Chess Park, seeing it as a way of giving back to the game that had given so much to him. He often donates time with the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition feeding and counseling homeless persons, as well as donating time at his church and children's schools.
Sean has spoken to our Club before, when I was President. He bears the same name with the same spelling as our beloved Club member Sean McMillan who passed away from a plane crash a number of years ago. Sean grew up in Rancho Park and has a PhD from “the school of hard knocks”. Heyler Realty was founded in 1927 and purchased by Sean and his partner ten years ago.
His life included an upbringing in an upper middle-class home with all the comforts, but which led him down a road of life than included being homeless, and thus his emotional ties to this whole issue.
Right out of high school, he had a great opportunity with a 4-year full scholarship and the support of his family behind him, but then bombed out. It was a traumatic lesson for him that led him down the road of life that included having a child and experiencing homelessness.
It all began around 1984 that he found himself without a high school diploma, in the middle of substance abuse and in a bad relationship. He turned his back on it all and quit and left for Maui. Sean accepted the fact then that he was not functioning well, he was out of a job, out of resources, nowhere to live and nothing but a bicycle and the clothes in his backpack and decided to call his dad for help. His dad told him he would be okay and hung up the phone. It finally hit him at age 20; he was broken, homeless, bicycling to other side of Maui with no hope of getting there, outside in a rainstorm, soaking wet and no money. Some kind-hearted person took pity on him, and pulled over in his car, invited him to put his bike inside the car and took him to get a meal. That person also gave Sean a job in return for room and board and started him moving in the right direction by changing his direction. It was the perennial fork in the road, and the generosity of someone pushed him in the right direction.
Some years later, he was back in society, he joined the local neighborhood council, and they appointed him Homeless chairperson.
Sean prides himself being a physical and macho type of guy. He told us a story of how he confronted the homeless in the area and intimated them to move somewhere else, including a bigger guy asleep on a roof. He engaged with that person in dialogue, which opened his eyes and ended up with Sean literally giving the shirt off his back to that homeless person, opening up a more constructive approach to the homeless problem.
His neighborhood council’s boundaries are from the San Diego Freeway to National Blvd to Santa Monica Blvd to Century City.
Stakeholders in the neighborhood council were in bitter dispute over the homelessness issue with NIMBY (not in my back yard) and YIMBY (yes in my back yard) and other factions that resulted in a version of the “War of the Roses”. He began to realize it was above his pay grade. This became his homelessness issue.
This is how he met Mike Stevenson who later became his partner in their foundation to benefit the homeless. Mike spoke to us about a year ago about homelessness, but has since passed away from COVID. Currently it is estimated that 60,000 are sleeping on the streets in LA County. It is also estimated that something equivalent to the combined populations of Culver City and Beverly Hills are on streets of city of Los Angeles.
About 57% of homeless are black males. Sean remembers thinking at the time, “There is a problem here, but I don’t know what the solution is.”
The general consensus seems to be about 500,000 families in Los Angeles County are one paycheck away from being evicted. The pandemic halted that, but now those restrictions have been lifted on the city level and the problem is back again.
It is further estimated that over 40% of women homeless are battered.
Sean prefers “unhoused” rather than “homeless” as a term.
If you are unhoused and suffering trauma, you are scared, you have a sense of fear and everyone looks down at you.
Sean and Mike’s organization has outreach teams that can engage and get them showers and housing and clothing.. The organization is called The West Los Angeles Housing www.wlah.org It is a non-profit classified under IRS regulations as a 501C(3) organization, so donations are considered charitable contributions.
They unveiled a placement program in August of last year and after three or four months of working and fund rising, they were able to contact 323 homeless individuals inside of the geo boundary. They found that about 60% of the homeless population was migratory.
Since August of last year, their organization was able to house 34 of the 323 engaged. Sean is happy with that ratio. Help those that want to be helped. There is a part of the population that doesn’t want to be helped.
There is a contract with the County for approximately $200,000 with several paid staff working as outreach specialists, one unpaid person who is an advocate, and one clinical psychologist. 93% of their funds raised go right back out into the community.
Sean closed with a poem dedicated to Stevenson - Splendid Torch by George Bernard Shaw.
“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die”. RIP Michael Stevenson.
PP Dwight opened the floor to questions, starting with PP Tom Barron. Sean responded by saying about 25% to 30% homeless suffer from mental illness and climbs to 55% when adding in addiction.
PP Tom Barron, PP Mike Newman and PP&PE Chris Gaynor asked questions.
Sean had nice things to say about Karen Bass and her commitment to the homelessness issue.
And with that, and a ring of the bell, the tie, the coat and the man himself, PP Dwight Heikkila, closed our Thursday meeting of the Westwood Village Rotary club.
PP Mark Rogo