On Monday, in a San Luis Obispo (SLO) courtroom, Dan De Vaul, a local man who has used his 70 acre ranch to help homeless persons rehabilitate their lives, was fined $1000 and sentenced to 90 days in jail.
In September, Mr. De Vaul was convicted of building safety and vehicle storage violations – both misdemeanors.
I have been following the ongoing battle between Mr. De Vaul and SLO County almost the entire length of time that I’ve been authoring this blog.
During that time, I’ve refrained from posting anything about this issue for several reasons. Primarily though, it has been because I’ve had mixed thoughts about it.
Throughout the court battle between the County and Mr. De Vaul, I was relatively certain that Mr. De Vaul would be found guilty. And, indeed that proved to be the case.
The surprise for me was the type of media attention the story ended up getting.
I knew that the local news media would report the outcome. However, I never expected that the story would be carried by news outlets – as well as a number of bloggers – from all across the nation.
SLO County’s gripe against Mr. De Vaul is that, although he may be providing what might be considered humanitarian aide to the area’s local homeless, he is housing them in buildings which could potentially be harmful to them.
Mr. De Vaul’s defense is that he is offering the homeless an opportunity to rebuild their lives – something he feels morally obligated to do since the County has not stepped up to the task.
Oddly enough, both sides are in the right. But, both sides are also all in the wrong.
Mr. De Vaul is right in believing that, as a community, we should be offering assistance to the homeless that empowers them to rehabilitate and rebuild their lives.
The County is right in upholding safety ordinances and building codes which are designed to protect the public.
Mr. De Vaul, however, is in the wrong by allowing those folks to reside in building which are inherently unsafe for human habitation.
And the County is also wrong in that it has failed to implement and adequately fund programs that would help the homeless become productive members of the community.
To be honest about it, I found the constant finger pointing, the back and forth bantering, the blame game, and the "who-is-right-and-who-is-wrong" arguments which were proffered by both sides to be rather nauseating.
Above of all however, what bothered me the most is that there was a more fundamental issue to the story which has remained largely ignored: the homeless themselves.
Those homeless who had taken refuge on Mr. De Vaul’s ranch are those who, for the most part, are viewed by the rest of the community as persons whose lives are unsalvageable.
These are people who suffer from addiction disorders. They are people who – for whatever reasons – were unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the traditional homeless shelter system. And having no where else to turn to, lived their lives on the fringes of society and made their "homes" along the banks of creeks; or among sections of wooded tracts of land; or under bridges; or wherever else they could lay their heads.
Although I do not condone Mr. De Vaul’s actions of allowing the homeless to reside in unsafe buildings, he nonetheless gave them an opportunity to reclaim their lives – something which the County has continually failed to do.
There are some in the community who will probably continue to view those homeless at the De Vaul ranch as being unworthy of helping. Their argument will most likely be along the lines that they are nothing more than worthless drunks and drug addicts who want nothing more than to sponge off the rest of society so that they can lay around getting drunk or high.
Yet, requirements for "residence" at the De Vaul ranch are that they were to remain "clean and sober" and attend rehabilitation meetings – something which the residents have adhered to.
Can you imagine how intense their desire for a better life must have been if they viewed living in rickety, unsafe buildings to be a step up from where they had been living?
That alone should be a clear indication that they want to turn their lives around.
And if these folks are that desperate for better life, shouldn’t we morally obligate ourselves to help them achieve that goal?
The SLO Tribune has reported that Mr. De Vaul was released from jail after Mary Partin, one of the jurors at his trial posted bail.
Ms. Partin stated that she felt,
"… strongly about De Vaul’s innocence and wanted to help him. She worked with a bondsman and paid the necessary $500, or 10 percent, of De Vaul’s $5,000 bail."