An Open Letter To Matt Lombardini

Posted: November 30, 2009 in Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Money, Morality, Poverty

Dear Mr. Lombardini,

First, thank you for taking the time to read my post: "Help The Homeless, Go To Jail. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200."

As for your comment to that post and the email you sent afterward – I understand your desire to defend Mr. De Vaul and Sunny Acres.

As I read through them, two thoughts went through my mind: "two wrongs don’t make a right" and "the ends do not justify the means."  

To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure if I should allow your comment to be posted. There were several reasons for this, but primarily because I do not approve of the use of equivocations or misleading statements as a method for justifying certain behaviors.

For example –

You stated that,

"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."

That statement is patently false – as were a number of other statements you made.

Over the period of time which I’ve been authoring this blog, I have received a number of emails from a few homeless services groups in SLO County which offer the homeless a genuine opportunity to rebuild their lives. They have contacted me, seeking input on how they might better provide services to their clients. On a couple of occasions I have been invited to serve in the capacity of an auxiliary member of their Board of Directors.

Although perhaps on not as large as scale, the services they provide is similar to that which Mr. De Vaul offers. The primary difference is that they are providing their services quietly, unobtrusively and – if I might add – within the constraints of the local codes and ordinances.

I suspect that the underlying purpose in making your comment to the post – as well as your email – were attempts to sway my opinion in such a manner as to get me "on board" and support the efforts of Sunny Acres.

Please understand I do not begrudge you for that. Considering that you are a volunteer at Sunny Acres, it is quite understandable.

However, your assumptions were – as you alluded to in your email – that I needed to "become better informed" as to what happens (and what has gone on) at Sunny Acres, as though I were a complete novice to the situation.

Let me assure you that I have been actively tracking the situation for nearly the entire time I’ve been authoring this blog (just shy of three years). Furthermore, I also have taken the time to do quite a bit of "backtracking" and research regarding Sunny Acres. So, I feel that I have a relatively good grasp of the situation.

In addition, over the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to speak with a good number of folks who have, at one time or another, lived at Sunny Acres, but left shortly after arriving because of what they described as "exploitive" practices. Moreover, many of the specifics they shared strongly contradict what you and other Sunny Acres "supporters" assert – and, in most instances, those specifics were far too consistent to be coincidental.

Your comment mentions that, due to the cost of the "county fees" required to erect proper housing for the homeless, Mr. De Vaul felt he had no other choice but to "… [build] without codes." Subsequently, he secured a permit to build a barn – which he then proceeded to convert into living quarters – thereby deliberately seeking to circumvent the county’s building and safety codes.

Doesn’t that action seem deceptive to you?

It does to me.

And, Mr. De Vaul’s justification for violating building and safety codes was what: because it was too expensive?

Oddly enough, that parallels the county’s reasoning for not providing adequate services to assist the homeless rebuild their lives: because it’s too expensive.

Neither excuse is acceptable.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

I agree wholeheartedly with the very last portion of your comment:

"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."

There is no way to justify the numbers of homeless all across the nation. There is no way to justify not having programs to provide them a way to become housed and repatriated back into the community.

That there are homeless in our country is indefensible.

But at the end of the day, we are a nation of laws.

The building and safety codes are there to protect folks. Moreover, they were in place long before Mr. De Vaul began housing the homeless on his ranch.

And, whether you accept it or not, they too are based on some sense of moral obligation. Nor should they be cast aside lightly and ignored just because someone deems them to be inconvenient.

Let us not forget, or attempt to confuse the issue. It was not Mr. De Vaul’s sense of morality which was brought to trial. It was his violation of local safety and building codes.

I don’t question Mr. De Vaul’s convictions that he has a moral obligation to help the homeless.

I’m of the opinion that all of us are morally obligated to reach out to our fellow man and offer a helping hand.

Personally, I think that what Mr. De Vaul is trying to do is a good thing. All the same, I also believe that he has gone about it the wrong way.

The ends do not justify the means.

If indeed you care about the homeless as much as you seem to, then perhaps you can find a way of mediating between Mr. De Vaul and the county; a way of helping to heal the polarizing effects this ongoing battle has had on the overall community.

As long as the community is at odds with one another regarding this issue, it is the homeless who will suffer because they are the ones who are caught in the crossfire.

Best Regards,

– michael –
SLO Homeless

P.S. – Mr. Lombardini, feel free to comment on anything I’ve written. However, please follow proper etiquette regarding brevity. Also, be aware that I will not tolerate any further equivocations, pontificating – or propaganda.

– m –

  1. David Sasha says:

    Thanks for the work you do on this blog. It’s a great resource. Forgive the reply if it comes on a bit embellished. I’d like to make a point about the conundrum which others may find useful.

    History of law has shown that there is frequently a meaningful correlation with the number of laws a country has and the proportion of those laws which prevent disenfranchised from justice, resources and therefore ultimately equality. One of the direct manifestations of this legal relationship is that that laws designed to ostensibly protect that majority, are instead used against them. The reason we oft hear given is the wholesale parental admonition: “it’s for your own good.” The irony is so ironic, it’s full circle not irony anymore.

    And the actual real legal reasons offered (precedent or not) are often petty, technocratic, hermetically sealed rules, backed by blanket rubber-stamp logical fallacies we have heard ad nauseum from “helpless” policymakers dutifully extracting their pound of flesh.

    My point is, perhaps when our highly regarded laws resonate rigidity, and where both sides are fundless, and when there is a clear, pressing human need and when due process only expedites failure, but government is unwilling or unable to steer the apparatus of state in any meaningful way, but instead inflames matters, then civil disobedience is indicated. To do less is status quo or in ethical terms, negligent.

    In fact, some people have only the clothes on their back and their Self on this planet to effect that change. And it is that moral conscience which overrides limiting laws. I’m reminded of little known scantily clad rulebreakers like Ghandi, Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Jesus Christ.

    Does anyone else find it insane that there’s some very valid set of arbitrary rules that prevents everybody in power from that extra little effort to facilitate good?

    • michael says:


      Thank you for the comment.

      Ordinarily, I would agree with you that in certain instances, laws and ordinances can be overly rigid – and can subsequently be used (as you put it) against those whom they purport to protect.

      In this particular case, however, Mr. De Vaul and Mr. Lombardini have continually tried to justify their “housing” of the homeless in hazardous conditions on the basis of moral superiority – claiming that the homeless they are “housing” are better off at their facility than sleeping out near the local creeks and/or under bridges.

      Nonetheless, the tragic reality is that the folks on Mr. De Vaul’s ranch are being housed in “buildings” which are inherently unsafe for human habitation. In fact, the exteriors of the “sheds” which some of those folks are living in have been “sealed” with crankcase oil (which is not only flammable, but toxic).

      I, for one, would not “house” my own pet in such a building – much less a human being.

      What it comes down to is this: two wrongs do not make a right. – which is why the post I wrote regarding the situation at Mr. De Vaul’s ranch, I made it clear that I personally believe that both sides are in the right. But both sides in equally in the wrong.

      All of this hoopla could have been avoided had Mr. De Vaul been willing to compromise from the get go. The county (as well as others from local homeless support services) have sought to work with Mr. De Vaul to find a reasonable solution. He deliberately has chosen not to compromise.

      – m –

  2. becky jorgeson says:

    Michael — (I’m wondering what your last name is)…before you speak, you need to educate yourself on the law and not just believe what you read in the media…state and federal legislation mandates that our county provide housing (not shelter) for the indigent. It’s called the Fair Housing Act and was passed in 1964.

    Perhaps this will help you understand that our own county administrators break the law every day by not providing this housing.

    We need a lot more men like Dan De Vaul. When was the last time you offered a homeless person a bed for the night? or a month? or permanently?

    Becky Jorgeson, Advocate for the Homeless

    • michael says:

      Ms. Jorgeson,

      Thank you for the comment.

      However, you are incorrect in stating that the Fair Housing Act of 1964 mandates that “housing” be provided for indigent members of society. It does not.

      The Fair Housing Act (which you can read in its entirety here and a summary, which you can read here) makes absolutely no mention whatsoever of the so-called “mandate” you allude to. The fact is that the Fair Housing Act of 1964 was enacted to prevent folks from being discriminated against when renting, purchasing or selling property.

      Regarding “state” laws (since we are discussing how they apply to Mr. De Vaul — and he resides in the State of California), I must once again state that you are incorrect in your allusions to a so-called “mandate to house indigent persons.”

      The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (which you can read here) also makes no mention whatsoever of your alleged “mandate.”

      While I can appreciate your loyalty to Mr. De Vaul, I find it quite disheartening that — in your zealousness — persons like yourself and Mr. Lombardini (who portray themselves as advocates for the homeless) are so readily willing to engage in deliberately distorting and misrepresenting the truth to make your point and justify Mr. De Vaul’s actions. Although, since you are a defender (and employee) of his that is perhaps understandable.

      Best Regards,

      – m –

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