Help The Homeless, Go Directly To Jail. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200.

Posted: November 25, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Compassion, Discrimination, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Morality, Politics

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."

Read the full article here.


  1. Tide Waters says:

    You have to beware of those ‘building safety and vehicle storage’ by-laws, however. Are they truly designed for safety or is there more to it?

    In Canada, local governments, through their by-laws, can and usually do dictate certain aesthetic requirements for their communities. They can and usually do dictate minimum sizes for residences, including rooms within them, and the type of materials used. And that’s just the beginning of it. NIMBYism is well-supported by and entrenched within municipal legislation.

  2. I have been a volunteer at Mr. De Vaul’s ranch for the past several months. Allow me to explain a few things about this situation.

    First off, the building in question has not been occupied for over 2 years. The reason the building was not up to code in its entirety is because the county fees more than $400,000 would have precluded Sunny Acres from building it in the first place. So, Dan went ahead and pulled a permit for a barn and turned it into a rooming house for his residence (who at that time totaled 72). He did this because he felt morally and spiritually obligated to help these people. The building was built by him and the clients. They had a stake in it. It was inspected by a member of the Army Corp of Engineers at one point who said it was structurally sound although not code compliant.

    I have been in the building and it is very well built and functunally. The building codes and standards of today are such that you must be wealthy to do anything on this scale. Simply following the letter of the law is not always the answer. What Mr. De Vaul did was but humanitarian treatment of people before the letter of the law. IF anyone can honestly say that these people are better off in the creek than they are living in a building that is not ‘up to code’ then have them try living in the creek for a month. I am willing to bet that anyone who had never been homeless would be grateful to have a garage, lean two, shed, trailer, camper or any other form of shelter that would allow them to be out of the elements reagardless of whether it is code compliant.

    In Mr. De Vauls case, building without codes was the only choice he felt he had.

    Sunny Acres is the only place in SLO county where the tired the sick and the poor can come and find reprieve a chance to get their lives back on track and an almost instant sense of family.

    Unfortnately our society has become entrenched in a flawed system that is not addressing the needs of the downtrodden and which actually hinders the efforts of those who want to help by pricing them out of business. This is sick and unjust and must change.

    Since then the residents of Sunny Acres had to live in tents until recently when Dan began building 10 x 12 structurally sound ‘garden sheds’ for the clients to move into. Each shed has been wired for electricity but not hooked up.

    These sheds are also not ‘code compliant’ as permits were again costly and required plumbing and heating to be installed, which is not neccessary in order to provide a place for people to sleep. It is all so frustrating…and as the red-tape rolls on and on..people continue to sleep in the streets of the richest country on Earth.

    Someone please justify this for me.

  3. Skye says:

    So much finger pointing going on, no one is really helping anyone…

  4. […] hear the voice that matters most: the formerly homeless people living the ranch. Though there are a few notable exceptions, the people living on the ranch have largely left out of the media discourse surrounding the […]

What's your opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.