California Man Jailed (and Bailed) for Refusing to Evict Homeless

This article really, really scares me… because the homeless people involved are in a nearly identical situation to me.  The landlord who lets all of us stay here is a kind, hardworking man.  For very low rent, far lower than we could find anywhere else, we have a series of trailers/garages/sheds to stay in.

Yet, let’s be honest, things aren’t up to code.  If anybody ever cared enough to make it difficult for him, he’d be in the same bind as 66-year-old Dan de Vaul, the San Luis Obispo man who was just sentenced to 90 days in jail for “safety violations” on his ranch property, where he allowed homeless people to stay in his barn and trailers, in exchange for maintaining a clean and sober lifestyle.  De Vaul provided free counseling and dental visits for the residents, and he also gave them opportunities to work and maintain an income during their stay, as they transitioned back into mainstream society and located jobs and apartments.  You can read more about de Vaul’s registered nonprofit, Sunny Acres, at its website.

De Vaul was offered a choice between probation and jail.  He chose the jail time, because the terms of his probation would have required him to evict the 30 homeless people residing on his ranch, and his conscience would not allow him to do that.  He had the integrity to put the welfare of those 30 people above his own, baldly stating to the media “I’m proud to go to jail for housing the homeless”.

The day following de Vaul’s conviction, he was bailed out of jail on appeal… the $500 bail bond was paid by one of the jurors who convicted him, Mary Partin.  She claimed to have been pressured to convict de Vaul, although she believed in his innocence.  Jury misconduct is the basis of de Vaul’s appeal.

The whole case makes me feel ill, frankly.  SLO is a few hours north of me and has a real problem with a shortage of housing for homeless individuals.  I have at least two personal friends in the area who have been homeless at one point (Michael of SLOHomeless and Rev. Cynthia over at Homeless Tales).  Yet, neighbors and police persisted in bringing charges upon a man who was doing so much good for others.  Apparently sleeping rough on a curb or bench is less of a safety issue than sleeping in a converted barn that doesn’t meet code.

The results of de Vaul’s appeal remain to be seen.  However, the whole case got me thinking about my own circumstances.  From the photos on de Vaul’s website, Sunny Acres looks a bit ramshackle, yes.  But then, so does the property where I’m staying.  And yet, it’s something.  It’s a far preferable alternative to sleeping rough (or yes, even camping out in a Walmart parking lot without utilities hookups).  It’s also, for many, a distinct notch above staying in a shelter, for many reasons.  The safety and privacy of my current circumstances far rivals any shelter I could find in the area.  And none of us have to wander the streets during the day, before being admitted at night.  We all have our own little area and niche.  We are less limited as to the amount of personal belongings we are able to retain.  We even have access to water, electricity, and the internet.

I will be leaving relatively soon, I know that.  I am here pending the receipt of the advance money for my book, and then Matt and I would like to get an apartment for ourselves and Fezzik, and scrupulously use the rest of the funds to work our way toward our ultimate goal:  a house.

But the people that I have befriended here, will still be here.  Some of them have been here for several years, or have left and then come back.  I may no longer have to worry, but they do.  All it takes is some complete douchebag to report the good man who has spent years helping those with nowhere else to go, and then their lives (and his) are turned all topsy-turvy.

This realization worries and sickens me.

Comments

  1. Kerry Echo says:

    Hey, Bri,

    Thank you for informing us of this good man’s situation.

    There is reason to worry, but then there are good people who are going to side with what is right. We must believe this with our whole heart.

    This man has called attention to his goodness and the plight of the homeless, and that is a good thing!

    Love ya,

  2. Julie H. says:

    They recently did a study (and I can not find the info on it but it was nationwide) and determined that it was way cheaper to try and house homeless people and give them services compaired to not doing that. Because what costs more is the number of times they ended up being arrested, going to the ER and other problems that occurred because no one was helping them stay sober.

    Not that all homeless have that problem but the fact is that if people have a place to stay they are way less likely to get arrested and less likely to get sick.

    It’s too bad they are treating this man like this instead of helping him to make the situation better.

  3. Mary McK says:

    The Duggers put their kids in a dorm style room. Why can this not be considered a dorm style room?

  4. MetisRebel says:

    I’m surprised Michael’s not jumping on this with both feet.

    Of course it’s appalling–it’s always appalling when someone tries to do the “just and honorable” thing and the State stomps on them.

    It’s also a complete invasion of the rights of this man to use his property as he sees fit–so long as he isn’t endangering anyone else.

    And he11, he’s not endangering them–he’s *saving their lives*.

    Any “Good Samaritan” laws down there he could invoke?

  5. Rev. Cynthia says:

    Please be aware that things may not be the way they appear concerning “Sunny Acres.” I would be interested in seeing what Michael Ian of the SLO Homeless blog has to say about this.

    For those of us living here in San Luis Obispo, the situation is not quite so cut & dried. I have talked with several people, who used to live on Mr. DeVaul’s property. As you will see on his site, “Sunny Acres” has 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. He charges people for rent and for food, which is not the case with the shelters here. I have met him in person and seen him in front of the press. It is difficult to tell what is really going on.

  6. ~B~ says:

    Hi Cynthia,

    This may be true. I’m just going by the news reports and photos I’ve seen.

    I also pay to stay on the property where I am. But it is a minimal amount and far cheaper than I would pay elsewhere in California, and I don’t begrudge my landlord, or Mr. de Vaul, money that will help them to live and continue providing those services. To me, it still sounds like the services that Mr. de Vaul provided (free dental visits, counseling appointments, career transitioning, etc.) may more than offset whatever nominal fee he makes. I don’t believe that Mr. de Vaul is the only nonprofit to charge for services, and it was not the nonprofit itself, or its services/practices that were facing charges, or at least I have not read as much.

    These people chose to stay at Sunny Acres – they were agreeable to whatever rent amount was required when they elected to stay there. For them, as for me, it may be worth paying a small amount of “rent” each month for the benefits that they obtain by staying there, over staying at a shelter. It might not be an option, or the best option, for all homeless people. But it seems it was the preferred option for those who chose to stay there.

    I’m under the impression that at least 30 people remain on Mr. de Vaul’s property even now, is that still the case?

    I’m curious, what was your take on Mr. de Vaul when you met him and those living on his property, Cynthia? I’m also keen to know Michael’s thoughts on the situation.

    Metis, California does have a Good Samaritan law, but as far as I know, it’s primarily useful for rescuers to avoid civil liability; I don’t believe it can be of much use in criminal law. The California Good Samaritan law is actually under scrutiny right now, as many seem to think that it is too broad, so its reach may be revised and narrowed even further soon.

  7. Woofer says:

    I lived at Sunny Acres for more than a year. I do have some observations on the current situation there.

    Dan is, indeed, a tad eccentric and quite stubborn. However, he is quite concerned about the plight of the homeless and tries extremely hard to provide basic shelter for as many as possible.

    The issue (partially) that got him arrested stems from a very old and ongoing situation. Dan seems to feel that he is being overly pounded by code enforcement for petty reasons. For instance, the ‘stucco’ building is very well built, though not to code. My take is this: Dan has had that property for quite some time. It is agricultural land, read: farm. Across the street, on a hill, are a multitude of million dollar plus homes. THAT is what is ‘really’ going on. NIMBY to the max.
    As for code, Dan seems to believe that code was never meant to be applied to structures on a property that will never be for sale. That is- ‘codes’ were developed for this reason: to ensure construction compliance to safety issues thus protecting the BUYER. (Well, Sunny Acres is not for sale.) Not even Dan will argue with ‘codes’ for that purpose.
    The structures may not be code, but they are quite safe. I would not hesitate to live there based on feelings for my safety. Sure, it could get a tad rustic living there… maybe the hot water heater may be down or something. But it sure beat the daylights out of living under a bush.
    You had a warm place to sleep, on a real bed, and adequate food. To a chronically homeless person this is heaven.
    I moved on, which is really a goal there. Am doing much better financially and have my own place.

    I wish him well and am glad to see this issue get the attention that it is getting.

    Be Well,
    Richard

  8. - michael - says:

    Howdy All,

    I did have something to say about the situation between Mr. De Vaul and SLO County… and wrote about it several days ago.

    Although it may not be exactly what folks might have expected from me, I did try to view it from both sides of the issue.

    Here’s the link:

    http://slohomeless.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/help-the-homeless-go-directly-to-jail-do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-200/

    Like Rev. Cynthia, San Luis Obispo (SLO) is my “stomping ground” and as she pointed out: things look a bit differently here at “ground zero” than they do from elsewhere. As a result, I’ve been keeping tabs of the on-going battle between the County and Mr. De Vaul almost since I first began authoring my blog.

    As I mentioned in my post, I had refrained from posting about it because I do have mixed feeling regarding the situation.

    The truth is that I don’t give a damn about either side, or about “who is right and who is wrong.” My concern has been – and always will be – about the well-being and safety of the homeless themselves.

    Unfortunately, the De Vaul/SLO County contentions have only served to further polarize the community regarding homelessness – and that’s not a good thing.

    Sigh.

    - michael -

  9. - michael - says:

    Quick update,

    Mark Horvath of Invisible People did is broadcast an interview with Dan De Vaul as I write this:

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.ustream.tv/channel/invisblepeople-tv

  10. Haley says:

    I too am from SLO, well, a nearby beach community, but I went to school there and have to go in for groceries and such. I have met many homeless people who have stayed at Sunny Acres for a time, this man keeps getting shut down and it has put people back on the streets. I am completely horrified by this situation. Sunny Acres is not a place where homeless people are forced to be, it is an option and for many, it is a much better option than living under the water tower behind the train station, or beside the creek.

  11. suz says:

    Heh Bri – good reporting. I think that it is wonderful what this man has done. It is very short sighted what his government/community has done to him. He is doing an amazing service for so many.

    Good reporting. Tighten it up and submit it to a newspaper or contact a radio… you got a voice gal, use it.

    You are right to be mad and sad by this…. sorta silly. Seem more helpful if this community woul dhave used the funds to convict a helpful to homeless man to help the man who helps the homeless… by supplying him with some hands to make his habitat for the homeless “up to code” and habitable….

    crazy. easier to blame and shame than to help and encourage – I GUESS.

    Keep outraged. Keep positive, and keep hopeful…..

    You are a gem.

  12. - michael - says:

    Julie,

    Regarding the study you mentioned, I believe I read that report several weeks ago. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to find the URL for it. I’ll keep looking though

    However, there was a study released in mid-November for the Los Angeles area which showed that housing the homeless reduced overall costs by 79%.

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.csh.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&FeatureID=464&PageID=1

    Although L.A. is a very cost place to live, I imagine that savings in other parts of the country would also be significant.

  13. Amy Lynn says:

    Dan de Vaul sounds like the most wonderful of people: strong in his beliefs and strong enough to stand up for them, no matter the costs. People like him are hard to come by and I’m glad he was bailed out.

    I can’t imagine what any homeless person is going through, especially those that wind up homeless through no fault of their own. Thank you for blogging about it.

  14. Haley says:

    Also, San Luis Obispo and the surrounding area is VERY expensive as far as cost of living is concerned.

  15. Rev. Cynthia says:

    ~Michael, thanks so much for posting a balanced look @ what is going on w/ “Sunny Acres” & their code violation issues, here in San Luis Obispo.

    ~Bri, as for my take on Mr. DeVaul, because he is eccentric (not unlike myself), I think that he can be a bit difficult to “read.” As a result, I felt that it has been unclear as to what his motives might be in starting a nonprofit. But, then that could be said of any nonprofit organization. He now has information about his personal history up on the Sunny Acres website: http://www.sunnyacresca.com/Our%20Founder.htm That seems to explain his interest in helping folks w/ substance abuse issues.
    Certainly various rehabilitation treatment facilities do, indeed, charge for services/lodging/meals. However, shelters do not.

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