Who’s Fighting for the Homeless In Rancher Housing Battle?

Last week, Daniel De Vaul was arrested for the conditions in which he was housing the homeless on his ranch in San Luis Obispo. California. Since this story broke, many people have been divided on this issue. Should the rancher be lauded for providing housing to the homeless? Or punished because of the awful conditions of his property?

Yesterday, I traveled out to Sunny Acres Ranch to meet Dan Du Vaul and provide an exclusive first look into the ranch and the story behind the headlines. I was excited to talk to Mr. De Vaul because I was told he’ll be appearing on Larry King Live and Good Morning America later this week. That said, I am not the mainstream media. I wanted to move past the media spin and 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 rancher debacle.

When I hear the word ‘ranch’ I think rural. Actually, Sunny Acres is not rural at all. It’s only a few blocks past a golf course, a middle school, and shopping. His neighbors are just 500 feet away and a housing development sits directly across the street. As you’ll see in the pictures and videos below, the ranch looked like a junky country barn. Although people are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions here – which is critically important – this should not trump important health and safety issues. These issues must be addressed. I was relieved to hear that the ranch does not accept children.

I understand that the city has tried to work with Mr De Vaul on several occasions to clean up his ranch. But as a stubborn and ornery man (both good traits in my book), Dan won’t play any game but his own. This is unfortunate. Sometimes, for the good of everyone, you have to compromise.
Jimmy lives on the ranch
Jimmy and Randy – two of the Sunny Acres residents I interviewed below – were a pleasure to meet and talk to (see below). But this is precisely why I found their substandard living environment unacceptable. Sunny Acres charges $300 a month per person to live there in a 10×12 shack with no plumbing that is not up to code. Sure, it’s affordable. But it is far from safe or decent housing. I don’t think that because a person has experienced homelessness or addiction they should have to “get by” in sub-standard living conditions.

After visiting the ranch, meeting Dan, some of the residents, and case managers, I’m still torn on this issue. Clearly, Dan’s intentions are in the right place. He doesn’t just talk about fighting homelessness; he is in the midst of battle. Though he should be chided for the conditions in which he is housing people, this remains a critical and unmet need.

Our federal and local governments have tried to mend the safety net, but the system remains broken. As the social worker I interviewed, Jennifer, points out, often homeless services are so segmented people fall through the gaps in the safety net. What’s more, the communication breakdown between nonprofit and government agencies often results in a confusing mass of services that is impossible to navigate. Maybe this is why Sunny Acres works; it fills gap because Dan takes everyone (but kids) and there is very little bureaucracy.

Perhaps the community can learn from De Vaul. Clearly he has a program that is working; people are finding stability and sobriety on his ranch. It’s cost-effective and I bet the “Sunny Acres Model of Recovery” can teach us a few things about saving lives and money (that is, beyond neglecting physical housing conditions… but I digress).

The biggest concern I had after visiting the ranch is the political hornet’s nest this is creating. Several locals said the attention on this story is polarizing a community that is already divided on this issue. And who will inevitably lose this battle? Those without a home in San Luis Obispo.

If you really care about the people living on your property, Mr. De Vaul, give them the safe, decent and affordable housing to which we are all entitled.

Mr. De Vaul: Please clean up this ranch

Stories from the Ranch

Interview with Dan De Vaul. Jennifer, a mental health case worker for Santa Barbara Count joined us for the interview. (interview was before my tour of the ranch and my end comments were cutoff. Basically I closed by saying this is an important issue and the SLO community needs to really look at all the facts. I see both sides. But as I have said in this post safety of people living on the ranch cannot be overlooked)

Photo sideshow. (flash would not work inside the barns)

Randy has lived in a 10×12 ‘garden shed’ for four months now. He credits Sunny Acres for his sobriety.

Jimmy is a Vietnam veteran who has lived on the ranch off-and-on for seven years. He has been clean and sober for two years.

  • You can't have it both ways. Either he's helping or he's not. He's not a rescue mission receiving donations and grants and screwing homeless people. The money he charges probably goes to cover the expenses incurred by keeping them on the property. Should he raise rent and fix up? Well then it wouldn't be low cost. Either call him a slumlord or applaud his efforts. You can't do both.
    Why doesn't the city step up and by some land and setup somewhere for these people to be evicted to?
    The conditions may be deplorable, but is it worse than sleeping on a park bench? on a street corner?
    Again you can't have it both ways?

    You want people to step up and do something, unfortunately, this is what it looks like.

  • tracy

    Great article and coverage! Very inspiring and thank you for sharing.

    Tracy from NM

  • Thank you for an inspiring post. When you find those who aren't afraid to do what they believe is when you find a true soul that is really determined to do good and make a difference. Since the day I set out and spent the day with a few homeless guys, I have thought differently about this subject. If you want to read about an inspiring interview with a man I met at 45th and I-5, here is the link http://blog.shanemac.me/a-homeless-marketing-id

  • JackieO

    It would be great if comments could focus more on solutions than the negativity of the problems and divisions. It seems to me the answer to this dilemma is unity.

    The simple fact is that none of us are perfect. But, our imperfections becomes irrelevant when we all work together. Mr. De Vaul is doing what he can. Now others must unite and join him by doing what they can… one builder can offer their skills when available, it doesn't have to break the bank or take over a life. One business can give supplies, one couple can spend time & energy helping out, one social group can bring food regularly, fraternal organizations can fund specific improvement projects, and religious groups can visit and comfort those living on-site. Will we?

    Every member of every community has a part to play. Then, no one has to do it all and everyone is much better off!

  • JackieO

    It would be great if comments could focus more on solutions than the negativity of the problems and divisions. It seems to me the answer to this dilemma is unity.

    The simple fact is that none of us are perfect. But, our imperfections becomes irrelevant when we all work together. Mr. De Vaul is doing what he can. Now others must unite and join him by doing what they can… one builder can offer their skills when available, it doesn't have to break the bank or take over a life. One business can give supplies, one couple can spend time & energy helping out, one social group can bring food regularly, fraternal organizations can fund specific improvement projects, and religious groups can visit and comfort those living on-site. Will we?

    Every member of every community has a part to play. Then, no one has to do it all and everyone is much better off!

  • bjorgeso

    Please know De Vaul has been desperately TRYING to get legal housing from SLO County for the last eight years. And please ask yourself: why doesn't SLO County talk about the health and safety of those residing in the creek a mile away from Sunny Acres? And why has SLO County (who allows our local disabled homeless people to live there) not brought the creek or the undersides of bridges UP TO CODE? Why doesn't SLO County abide by state and federal laws that mandate they provide shelter for the indigent?

  • slohomeless

    You hit the proverbial nail on the head.
    Homelessness is an issue solvable only by a united community, working together to address the needs of those who are the most vulnerable.
    However, for that to occur, folks must learn how to compromise – including Mr. De Vaul.

  • slohomeless

    If Mr. De Vaul is genuinely serious about getting legal housing on his property, the solution is simple: obey and comply with the safety, health and building codes (like everyone else in the county is required to do).

    Had he done so from the very beginning, perhaps our community would not have become as polarized over the issue as it is.

  • Mark,

    I usually agree with your perspective on things. You’ve been one of my heroes since I began following you around the time of our little 1,287 event down in Fayetteville. However, I’m a bit confused by your synopsis this time. I haven’t been to Dan’s ranch and am formulating much of my opinion based on your videos, pictures, and what I’ve read from various sources (news, blogs, public comment, etc.). Therefore, I’d appreciate you expanding your thoughts in a reply to help me understand your point of view on this one.

    Here is what I’m thinking:

    Dan is a hero in my book. Imperfect as he is, Dan strikes me as a God-loving man who has gotten up off his blessed assurance and is doing the best he can to do what Jesus told him to do –feed, clothe, and shelter his loved ones. Dan may come off a bit arrogant and anarchist in his tone and demeanor but I’ll cut him some slack. I might become a little of the same if I had to struggle with persons of power, authorities, and armchair quarterbacks telling me “Hey, we appreciate the good things you’re doing for folk but you’re not doing it good enough so we’re gonna make you do it our way.” Despite his faults, draw a line in the sand and I’d definitely place Dan on the side of righteousness.

    But here is what really bugs me about your post. It’s the comments about the so called unsafe living conditions present on his ranch. Especially this one: “If you really care about the people living on your property, Mr. De Vaul, give them the safe, decent and affordable housing to which we are all entitled.”

    If you really care? That’s a shitty thing to say to somebody who’s dedicated his land and life to helping others! Who are you, I, or anybody else to tell Dan how he should be caring for the people already appreciating his care? I’m sure you didn’t make such a statement in his presence because you didn’t mention anything about writing your post from the ER while having Dan’s boot removed from your ass! (Seriously Mark, I love you bro’ and you are still my hero but you lit a fire in this country boy’s belly with this post!)

    From what I saw in your pictures, this ranch doesn’t look much different than where I grew up, how some of my family still live up in Missouri, or how some of our neighbors are making it around Arkansas. Try to call any of them poor or impoverished and they may tell you to piss off city boy! Fact is if you got a roof over your head, food in your belly, some warm clothes and bedding, and are living in a community without fear then you’ve got a leg up on most in this world.

    These 10×12’ “garden sheds” as you called them would look like mansions to many around the globe. Same goes for the RV’s and barn. Even the tents would be envied by those currently going without. “Safe”, “decent”, and “affordable” are relative terms. We’ve all been places where we’ve felt perfectly safe yet another might be terrified and vice versa. I’ve lived places that I considered decent but another might think it beneath them. (One man’s dump is another man’s castle.) And affordability depends as much upon one’s ability to afford something as it does on how much something costs. Our culture is full of people, at dramatically different income levels, trying to buy things they can’t afford.

    The shabby RV and barn-living reminds me of my father. When Dad was released from prison a few years ago he had a tough time making it. Fortunately, his uncle gave him a job and a place to stay. His residence was initially and old RV with water and electric hook-up parked outside his uncle’s horse barn. In the winter, however, the RV became a little too cold so Dad remodeled an old office and storage room inside the barn into a two room apartment. In the barn he had electricity but no toilet or hot water. So he’d use the RV parked outside for bathing and such. Never did I get the feeling that Dad thought he was poor or impoverished. No sir, Dad was blessed to have family that cared for him and a “safe”, “decent”, and “affordable” place to stay. Nor was he “entitled” to anything. Dad knew he got himself into his less than ideal situation and was thankful for family that cared for him and gave him a hand up. Still is.

    The Randy you met and videoed understands this. Randy didn’t speak about how he deserved or was “entitled” to what Dan has or has not provided him. Admitting his mistakes and accepting the consequences, Randy is joyously grateful for what has been offered him at Sunny Acres. Our world would be blessed to have more humble and thankful attitudes like Randy’s rather than so much “gimme what’s mine ‘cause I deserve it” attitude.

    I witness sometimes an attitude among some of my peers about giving and serving others that concerns me. I’ve seen it in myself at times as well and I try to consciously change my thinking. Instead of focusing on helping people considered “the least of these” we may sometimes take an easier approach in helping “those less fortunate than ourselves.”

    It is good to try to help people less fortunate than ourselves –if they truly need the help or want it. However, how arrogant it is of us to assume we can help someone by making them like ourselves. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” not “make your neighbor like yourself.” One man’s poverty is another man’s wealth. Just because someone’s shelter or clothing doesn’t look as good as mine doesn’t mean they need or want my help. Just because we see a neighbor with a shabbier dwelling than our own doesn’t mean we should feel sorry for them. The persons living inside could be more happy and content with what they got than many of us living behind our pretty, high-rent facades.

    Resolving homelessness is gonna take more than providing everyone a job and affordable housing. It’s also gonna take all of us coming to terms with needs vs. wants. A lot of people aren’t getting what they need because so many of us are taking everything we want and not leaving anything left of the fields to glean. Conversely, I also see a lot of persons chasing after wants they can’t afford and screwing up their ability to provide for their own needs. And our spoiled, litigious, rights-driven, out of touch culture has encouraged our officials to legislate building and residential codes that have more to do with neighborhood aesthetics and liability avoidance than they do with the safety of occupants.

    With Christmas fast approaching, my last comment is this: If God had waited another couple thousand years and dropped himself in today’s out of control and out of touch legalistic culture we’d be in a mess for sure. The barn would be condemned, the Innkeeper fined, Mary and Joseph evicted, and Baby Jesus taken into child services custody.

    Again, love ya bro. I’ve been learning a lot from you these past four months. Just think you’re wrong on this one.

  • bjorgeso

    Thanks for your email…it's the County who isn't following or complying with safety and health codes…SLO County is mandated by State and Federal laws (US Fair Housing Act) to provide housing for the indigent – and to assist those who can provide housing for the indigent – our County does not do so and is not assisting others who can, making or County Board of Supervisors the ones who are breaking their own laws…you can research this on line

    “Everyone else in the county” doesn't run a clean and sober living program wherein they house, feed and clothe 30+ people each and every night for eight years with no governmental funds. Sometimes things are not as they seem…Im sorry I don't see your name on this email…

    I invite you to come out to the ranch and actually see what it is you write about…(I will be out of the country for two weeks, but would be happy to show you around when I return…)

    If folks in the community who do not understand what Sunny Acres is all about would come out and visit (as we have invited them to do) they would not be fearful and would understand what De Vaul does and why. Actually, the majority of the people we hear from are very supportive.

    And this is not a legal matter – it is an ethical and moral one. I will ask you the same question I asked the Board of Supervisors a year ago – when was the last time you invited someone in for a meal who was homeless? Have you ever been able to invite someone to your home, for the evening, to allow them to sleep in a bed instead of under a freeway overpass? I ask you not to be so quick to judge those who will go to the bus stop at midnight, to pick up a man just out of prison in LA, who has no place to live.

    I am asking you to please become part of the solution – we need your help.

    Thank you for your email
    Becky Jorgeson
    Public Relations
    Sunny Acres, Inc.


  • mattlombardini

    I have been volunteering at Sunny Acres for the past several months. I contacted Mark and invited him to come out and do this interview and story. Dan, myself and other supporters are grateful to you Mark for helping to get the word out. I have come to appreciate you for your efforts as I have indicated to you several times already.

    Regarding the “Junk”: I appreciate your stance. I get that cleaning up the Ranch would likely benefit Sunny Acres politically in the long run as well as eliminate some obvious safety concerns. Mr. De Vaul has done this to a large extent but there is more being asked of him. Because of the properties proximity to the city, it seems to be more of an issue for him versus a ranch that might be located in a more remote location. This is unfortunate, but it is the reality. That being said, based on what I have observed, I do not believe that simply cleaning up the “junk” will unequivocally put Sunny Acres in a position to receive the required permits it seeks to grow the Sunny Acres program. Unfortunately politics plays is playing a huge role in all of this as exemplified by the actions of both sides involved.

    Regarding the Housing: Dan has won me over in terms of defending the type of housing he has opted to provide in the interim pending permits and the ability to build legally. I feel strongly that Sunny Acres in its current state serves the basic needs of these people whose only other option was to live in the creek. And there is no denying its the only game in town of its kind where someone can easily come on board without going through the usual 5th degree or incurring the expenses required. I thought Jennifer explained it pretty succinctly in the interview you did.

    People are living in unsafe conditions ½ mile down the road from where I live in county sanctioned housing. Obvious code violations are everywhere. Junk sits in front yards.

    I guess the reason I single Sunny Acres out as being different is because in this instance these folks are the ones who have neither the means or the where-with-all to rent a place of their own.

    The Ranch gives them the opportunity to move in that direction of getting their own place or staying at Sunny Acres permanently if THEY choose to. Over the years many of the people here have come without any money at all.

    The 300.00 per month is charged to those who are able to pay it. Others have an opportunity to work it off in whatever way they are capable of doing. Had you spoke with more of the residents, you would have found that all are grateful to be here and for the ‘hand-up’ rather than the proverbial hand-out that Mr. De Vaul has given them. Many of them live in fear that the county will eventually sweep through and drive them back to the creek with intimidation as it has done in the past. In fact, a couple of months ago, when this all kicked up into high gear, Mr. De Vaul [publicly] told the County he would shut down Sunny Acres and invited them to come and get the people living there. They county responded saying they were not interested in displacing these folks. And while they have deemed the current living facilities condemned, they continue to let the people reside at Sunny Acres and offer them no alternatives.

    Having grown up on a farm myself and witnessing how my Uncle and father helped a man out for years by providing him with a small out building to live in and some labor to buy food, my inherent value system tells me that ‘any’ help is better than none…This man was appreciative and kind. Could my Dad or Uncle have done more, sure. They could have moved him into our home, or built him a home of his own according the codes. But I believe they did what they felt comfortable and were able to at the time to the best of their ability.

    Dan started out in this same way. But as more and more people heard about him he found himself thrust into a position of being someone looked to for help that was not available elsewhere. This is when his feelings of moral and spiritual obligation really kicked in. This is evidenced by the actions he has taken.

    He began the process of trying repeatedly to get a conditional use permit in order to build ‘legal’ housing and do it the way the government says you should do it. Originally Dan wanted to add on to the existing house on the property to provide adequate housing, the county would not grant him the needed permit. He jumped though hoops only to be stopped each time by bureaucracy and a local government whose actions seem to show that it didn’t want a facility in that location.

    During this time Dan continued to provide housing for a growing population, at it’s height 72 people, in the best way he could, (was willing to) and felt capable of. The fact that things are not squeaky clean and he has been forced to operate outside the letter of the law does not prevent his service to his fellow man from being helpful, needed, and appreciated by many.

    This does not make him a saint in my eyes, just a man who was willing to help without fear of what the government might try and do to stop him. He put the needs of the people before the law of the land.

    That being said, Dan has done the best ‘he’ is capable of doing. It is easy to stand by and accuse him of not doing it ‘right’. But who decides what is ‘right’? He does not abuse these people nor is he profiting financially from them. There has never been an incident of any significance at Sunny Acres. Granted, as you said to me when we met, it only takes an earthquake, fire, etc. I submit to you that living with this kind of mentality may be one of the reasons why government as well as the private sector have in so many ways abandoned their fellow man.

    FEAR rules and yes stuff happens. Whether a facility is up to code or not does not prevent this natural law of nature and man. Inherent dangers are everywhere. If we wait until everything being tried to help our fellow man is done to the letter of the law, significant change may never come and the homeless you so fervently advocate for will continue with their plight. Mr. De Vaul has tried to operate to the letter of the law and been thwarted. He has resorted to doing things ‘to the best of his ability’ by applying simple methods (that yes, are currently outside the parameters of the law)

    The county simply does not provide an overnight shelter, period. Plans for a new shelter are in the works, to the tune of a projected 6 to 8 million dollars and all of the operating expenses that will come with it, but once again, do not include an overnight facility. This is the best our local government is willing to do. Throw money at the problem, follow the law and well, you get the picture.

    So what are We the People to do….if a county won’t grant permission and I want to help a man or woman in the best way I am capable? Do I just say: sorry, I don’t have a building up to county code and my property is too messy so I can’t invite you in….good luck. Is this putting humanitarian needs first?

    People helping people, in the best way they are able and willing to, may be our only hope to seeing more of those that are down and out given some sort of opportunity for a fresh start.

    Can we honestly say that the people living at a place such as Sunny Acres whether it be in a tent, trailer or a 10×12 structure [built with brand new lumber, 2×4 framed, solid sheeting and roofing, drywall and a solid door and window (hardly a shack) ] with immediate access to good food, clean water, clothing, shelter, showers, internet, television, newpapers, bus service and most importantly a family and the opportunity to feel a sense of belonging are not better off than being outdoors in the elements?

    Where is freedom of choice in all of this? Who am I, you or the government to tell people how and under what conditions they should live?

    The only available resources provided by government is located on one far side of town, (which is out of sight and mind) and it is a place where one can only stay during the day and are then forced to leave come nightfall….I call that a form of abuse and neglect.

    As one commentator on this blog so aptly put its:

    “You can't have it both ways. Either he's helping or he's not.”

    Mark, God Bless your efforts. But until we begin to advocate for those willing to stand up and work outside the box do you believe that substantial change will ever occur? Attempting to play by the rules in many cases such as Dan’s has proved to be very difficult if not impossible.

    So why put the focus on the perceived negatives such as “junk” or what the government deems “inadequate” housing? This is exactly the kind of rhetoric that mainstream in the box thinkers feed on and serves to bolster the government’s position and make the little guy trying to help look bad. Make him look bad enough and he will eventually give up….you are in some ways helping to enable the means to that end.

    It is interesting to note, that if I look at the blogger comments and letters to the editors regarding this issue in our county and all around the Country, most favor what Dan is doing and implore the government to give him the required permits so that the operation can be deemed legal. He can’t become legal until they (the government) allow it to happen. The code violations have become the issue and this has served to demonize a man who does good works. Sound familiar – think J.C.

    The basic fundamental issue here is that every man women and child have an inherent right to be helped, as should the one offering the help in the best way they are capable of, even if the law and powers to be preclude them from doing good work within the confines of the system.

    If Jesus had operated by the law of the land, would his disciples have followed? Would he have become the spiritual leader that he is today?

    Matt Lombardini
    Volunteer / Sunny Acres, Inc.
    email me at: [email protected]

  • Keith Bender

    As an observation from the front lines of humans behaving stupidly, I have seen more people pointing out whats wrong than what is right. An attitude of implied moral superiority takes hold like any other drug and clouds the real issue which is saving lives. Read the 10 yr. plan “A Path to Home” and the county concedes 92% Un-Sheltered. The design is'nt EAMES but when I was sleeping in my Car I dreamed of a storage shed.

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame cried out for ” Sank chew airy, Sank chew airy. The solution escapes us as long as we bicker over the wrong thing. People are dying year after year yet thats ignored as long as we can divert attention to procedural squabbles and brain damaging head butting.

    The property would be a perfect spot to deploy a Huge tent. 200x 400 and when the 10 year plan is finished we can remove the tent then. 10 year conditional emergency zoning Variance. Save lives first , Bicker second

  • bjorgeso

    Thanks for your note – I'm just sad our taxpayers dollars are spent on a two inch thick Ten Yr Plan to End Homelessness and there's no $$ to implement the program now. I've lived in SLO for 45 yrs – no shelter yet for the indigent.

    When I get home from Thailand, I'll send you the two page doc a class of 17 yr old high schoolers came up with to end homelessness…very well done indeed…

    Thanks again for your note
    Becky Jorgeson
    Public Relations
    Sunny Acres, Inc.


  • Keith Bender

    The County had to Pay to Play so to speak. The Federal Government requires a 10 year plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. No plan, no money. So Plan a good expense because now County admits problem . They are getting $880,000 in Stimulus funds to do as they have been doing. The Shelter Maxine Lewis gets something like $90,000 from HUD . Follow the money. Some funding makes the recipient follow rules. Your Indigent mandate may be just another unfunded federal mandate meaning no bite, just bark. Would love to get more details on that and see the solution the Kids have come up with. Read the 10 year Plan!!! It's online and downloadable. How do you wake up these people ? Being right does not mean you get to be happy. It is not about property, its about people. You have a golden opportunity to create some affordable housing for people who really need the help. R3 zoning plus the 25% bonus for affordable Housing which covers segment bonus for degree's of affordability on top of the first bonus. Whew! thats alot, but 72 acres could yield 500 to 1000 housing units. 20 units per acre x 50 or 72.
    You cant build cheap anymore. So the land owner has to extract the maximum number of units to amortize the land cost up front. Go 50% senior housing and 20 % low/low and 30% moderate for 100 % Affordable but a demographic mix. Then the 80 % pays off the 20% low/low and the city even pays for permits and sewer and water tap fee's. NEGOTIATE.

  • please know I like Dan, I really like that he is taking action! But housing people in condemned buildings is not acceptable.

    there has to be some kind of checks and balances. for example, is it OK to work a homeless person as 'slave labor' justifying it as “we are giving them housing and they are getting sober”?

    Sunny Acres is not doing 'slave labor', but I have seen it. feed and house a 'bum' and then work him all day does happen! I lived in a shelter that was eventfully shut down by the FBI. I got sober there. should this shelter that was abusing homeless people for profit be allowed to stay open because I found sobriety there? HELL NO!

    Dan has a great huge heart and I believe honestly does care for these people, however, I also think he is allowing stubborn pride to block reason.

    this argument is rather dumb if you ask me. housing ANYONE in a condemned building is unacceptable.

    as I stated in the post Dan's 'program' should be studied because there are obvious benefits. But arguing people should be allowed to live in unsafe environments, and landowners be allowed to break the law is ignorant if you ask me. one person gets hurt and watch this conversation change. we live in California the land of earthquakes and fires. there is a GOOD reason we have building codes. there is absolutely no logical reason to house people in buildings that are not of code. point blank: when I saw the condition of the barn structure that Dan was trying to make into a 'boarding house' I was shocked! I am not an engineer but it looked completely unsafe. to clarify no one was living in it at the time of my visit. But people were living in junk RVs around the property that really horrified me. People were also living in tents next to rusty junk piles, etc! I did like the 10×12 'garden sheds' until I saw that each one had a condemned sign on it.

    I have visited the Prado Day Center in the area. http://www.pradodaycenter.org one of the best facilities I have seen. it is up to code and has effective case management. please stop saying there are no services in the area. of course, like everyplace in this great country of ours there is NOT ENOUGH. But there are services in SLO

    here is the deal and it is rather simple.

    everyone here needs to stop this argument and start compromising for the good of the homeless people in SLO.

    Dan is breaking the law and he does not want to change at all! that is wrong.

    If Dan and the Sunny Acres team really wants to help the homeless people of the community clean the place up and bring it up to code

    let me share with you a good example because this can be done:

    Mobile Loaves and Fishes rapid houses people in RVs


    watch the video


    MLFNOW is doing what Dan is doing, yet the difference is they work with the community not against.

    Sunny Acres team – please stop trying to rationalize housing people in unsafe conditions simply because people are getting sober. if you really care about the people housed on the property start working as a team with the community and clean the place up.

    on a closing note I have been doing this for a long time and I have yet to interview a homeless person who is currently living in a shelter/program that would talk bad about it. while in a 'program' every homeless person thinks it's the best thing that ever happened to them. Too many it is, but some are just blinded because their situation 'seems' better from the previous one.

    not all shelters and homeless services organizations are good. Most are, but there must be health and safety standards maintained without exception to protect a population who has little influence

  • Hi Becky,

    I did visit. I would recommended not inviting people to visit until the place is cleaned up. you can only pull on heart strings so long.

    feeding and clothing 30 people without government funding is awesome. we need more people taking action to do just that. But housing people in condemned buildings is not acceptable.

    with all the arguing that comes from Sunny Acres I still don't see why Dan does not just clean the place up and make it safe. He has a great opportunity to show the world a new model for homeless services and the energy you all put into fighting the government should be put into finding grants and donations to remove the junk and build housing that is structurally sound and up to code.

    I was actually very generous in my post about the living conditions on the ranch. I have showed this post to several homeless services professionals and all of them agreed that the ranch needs to either get up to code or stop housing people.

    stop fighting and start fixing is the one and only solution to best help the homeless people of SLO

  • bjorgeso

    Thx – have read the 10 yr plan

    The Maxine Lewis Shelter (and t he Prado Day Ctr) are run by the gov (EOC) and they have a $1.5 million annual budget — they house exactly 45 people per nite

    Am forwarding your very good info on to Dan and one of our volunteers

    Am heading to Thailand for 3 wks…more later

    Thanks again!!!
    Becky Jorgeson
    Public Relations
    Sunny Acres, Inc.


  • hardlynormal,

    You keep making a point:
    -“housing ANYONE in a condemned building is unacceptable”
    -“But housing people in condemned buildings is not acceptable”

    So then we should leave them in the street?

  • this is spot on! thanks Keith

  • slohomeless


    Mr. De Vaul is not the only person who offers a “clean and sober” facility for the county's homeless. To make it seem, by inference, as though he is disingenuous. The only difference between Mr. De Vaul and those other groups is that they are doing so in compliance with local health, safety and building codes.

    As for your “argument” that this is not a legal matter – do not attempt to cloud the issue. Mr. De Vaul wasn't sentenced because of his “ethics.” He was sentenced for violating local codes. Pure and simple.

    To suggest otherwise is also disingenuous.

    Deputy District Attorney Craig Van Rooyen, openly stated in the courtroom:

    “We have no objection to Mr. DeVaul’s facility. The way he has gone about it has led to this.”

    Even Judge Trice commended Mr. De Vaul for his efforts to help the homeless, but said that he had no choice except to sentence Mr. De Vaul for the code violations.

    Our county could have been saved the agony of being divided over this issue – and perhaps some of our communities might not be homeless right now – if Mr. De Vaul had simply “played by the rules” from the very onset.

    Instead, we now have a community which has been polarized. And, to quote an old saying: “A house divided can not stand.”

  • Keith Bender

    The last I heard tell there is no standard or best practices for Shelters, Safe Havens or well meaning Sobriety Work Farms. So in order to not appear an institutionalized service industry everybody makes up their own rules and guidelines. There is no standard or best practices for charitable giving either. We do as we feel best, but then the zoning Inspector knocks on the door and we discover things we never wanted to know.

    Zoning is not going to allow an RV or RV's . Zoning in this case is going kill all the good this guy is trying to create. It's up to Government to
    protect us even if it kills us in the meantime. This is just another example how well meaning people screw things up . And on top of it all He probably does not trust the well meaning people to stand behind their word. You cant grow people on agriculture zoned ground and he does not listen to logic.

    You can grow grapes and stuff like that and Farms only have a Farmhouse and maybe a caretakers apartment . So you color inside the lines and only with the approved pantone colored markers. The idea of inviting some people who are down and out to stay as long as needed is only real in the movies. You didnt really think that just because people are freezing to death that that means you can offer an alternative? A Sanctuary of sorts?

    Have you not learned the lesson yet? You cant fight City Hall or the County for that fact. They have to be right, so no matter how much what you are doing is needed they let you get away with it and next thing Grandma will start selling homemade pies from her front porch. For Gods sake , Dan, cut the crap and get back in line like the rest of them . We certainly dont want people thinking for themselves. They wouldnt need us .

    So when your children ask how many Homeless people froze to death last year . Tell them the truth… you dont know and dont want to know. Because if you cant help the right way ….then dont help at all.

    Just apologize for letting this get out of hand and stop trying to make a silk purse out of that sows ear. we are more stubborn than you. Personalities get in the way and principles are out the window.

    It is so special when you see people working together to help others.
    Where did I put my Prozac?

  • Mark,

    Some of this will be redundant, but I feel compelled to reply.

    Sunny Acres HAS applied for permits and been denied. The County until very recently through agencies like probation, mental health and the sherriffs department were dropping people off here. Hence although they were in effect condoning Mr. De Vauls efforts, at the same time they would not grant permits for legal housing. The people kept coming…they wanted out of the creek and saw sunny acres as a viable option. When they were in tents the county said fine to that. But put them in a structure and your breaking the law.

    What don't you get here? The problem resides within the county and its refusal to grant permits for housing that are affordable for a non-profit. Mr. De Vaul is attempting to help people, desires to do it legally and the county continues to thwart his efforts.

    Would you care to return to Sunny Acres and tell everyone here they have to leave because the buildings are condemned? Do you have an alternative for them to offer? Mr. De Vaul is not going to be the one to turn these folks away. He has too much compassion to do such a thing.

    This is about politics. You oversimplify the situation.

    I don't understand your insistence on siding with a government who is unwilling to allow Sunny Acres to exist with legal housing by refusing to provide the permits needed in a manner that is affordable. It makes no sense. They should be bending over backwards to offer support, but that is not the case. Arrgggg….

    Mark, if you want to help, write a letter to each of the SLO county board of supervisors and ask them why they are refusing to grant permitted housing at a rate that is affordable. Do some research and see what you find out. Try advocating for Sunny Acres and you will be advocating for the homeless in our county. Help us convince the county that this is a viable project and that the process should be expedited and made affordable. Tell them your view on this model as one who has been in the trenches all around the country. If you have any clout, please, exercise it. As for the experts you know of, are any of them willing to help with this situation? Why have I not heard from any of them? Is it because they all agree with your simple analogy. Just clean up the junk and all will be well. Sunny Acres CANNOT build legal housing without permits and substantial fee waivers. This is the cart before the horse syndrome.

    Thanks for the links to Mobile Loaves and Fishes. Its a great concept, but not the model for this property. Our county will never allow this pristine 72 acres parcel to become a trailer park. Not going to happen. NIMBY….What people want is a pretty ranch with a white picket fence to look at. Once that accomplished there would be no desire to place a homeless facility here, let alone a trailer park. So cleaning the place up first, without permits guaranteed in writing will be a detriment to seeing Sunny Acres survive. I'll say it again “politics”. The only way to overcome this situation is with vocal support from people who believe in the concept and want to help make it happen. Are you one of those people?

    Dan will stick to his guns. Although I don't agree with every move he makes, I can see why he makes them. SLO has not shown that it wants to truly help the homeless. If it did, Sunny Acres would be well on it's way to realizing it's vision.

    By the way, Prado is a DAY care facility only. No one disputes that. Sunny Acres is a 'living facility' with the opportunity to work and learn a skill. Prado does have services that Sunny Acres does not. Each compliments the other. Sunny Acres and Dan De Vaul acknowledge and encourage anyone who is doing something to help people in need at any level.


  • Matt,

    this is getting beyond dumb.

    I'll write the letters the minute you clean up the ranch and make it safe for people to live on.

    it is simple! clean out the junk and repair/build structures that are legally safe for people to live in!

    all I hear from the Sunny Acres team is you won't compromise and you won't listen to anyone's thinking but your own. you are breaking the law and risking peoples lives by housing them in unsafe buildings.

    why doesn't Dan be the bigger man and take the first step in making this right by SIMPLY obeying the law and cleaning up the place?

    he wont, you wont, no one on the Sunny Acres team will.

    I am actually starting to change my mind some. I thought you all genuinely cared for people. what I am starting to see is you'd all rather argue ignorance instead of doing what is right.

    WAKE UP! there is not enough housing ANYWHERE in any community in America. that does not give you or anyone an excuse to house people illegally in an unsafe environment! STOP POINTING FINGERS AT SLO and start doing what is right!

    you also didn't get the point of MLFNOW. i wasn't suggesting you make a trailer park, i was showing you a real life example of a man who is rather similar to Dan, yet instead of being a 'maverick', Alan works with the community to affect real change. MLFNOW is an example that you can supply adequate housing without government assistance.

    I too will repeat a little. you are illegally housing people in unsafe structures and on unsafe properties. either clean it up and make it safe or stop housing people. it is that simple!

  • slohomeless

    Check your facts before making unequivocal statements.
    MLM Shelter provides enough beds each night for nearly twice the number you quoted.
    And while they may have a larger annual budget that Sunny Acres, you once again choose to omit the salient facts: they are providing the homeless shelter which is – at the very least – suitable for human habitation.

  • slohomeless


    In my post over at my blog, I gave Mr. De Vaul the benefit of the doubt.

    And unfortunately – just as you did with your comment to my post, here you are at this post spouting the same old tired excuses for not doing the right thing. Additionally, you keep making unequivocal statements which are not true – and consequently undoing all of the “good” you claim you want to do.

    As for why Sunny Acres isn't “well on it's way to realizing it's dream” – blame it on Mr. De Vaul – not the county!

    He has arrogantly and stubbornly refused to obey the law, even when the county gave him extension after extension after extension to comply. And, don't even be so foolish as to say I don't know what I'm talking about – because you know well enough that I do.

    So let me echo Matt's sentiment: “I thought you all genuinely cared for people. what I am starting to see is you'd all rather argue ignorance instead of doing what is right.”

    As for your statement that, “SLO has not shown that it wants to truly help the homeless.”… you need a reality check.

    Sunny Acres is not the only “game” in town.

    Yet, you pretentiously act as though if it were not for Mr. De Vaul that the county would be over run with homeless. Give me a massive break!

    The reality is that Sunny Acres is housing less than 1% of the county's entire homeless population.

    All of the belly aching and whining you folks at Sunny Acres are doing is further creating divisiveness in the community. And it is the homeless who will ultimately suffer – and all because Mr. De Vaul wanted to play the renegade.

    It's bunk and you know it!

  • bjorgeso

    The Director of the shelter sits on our board of directors…I'm well aware of what goes on there…thanks…

    Our homeless can go in in the evening around 6pm and sleep only, if there is a bed for them – they must be out by approx 7am –

    “Habitation” is defined as “a place to live.” The MLS is a bed for the nite. The rest of the day folks have to roam the streets or be in the creek…moving…so they aren't arrested.

    Signing off for two weeks–off to Thailand w/younger son!

    PS Please go visit the ranch – our head volunteer, Matt ([email protected]),will be happy to show you around…I think you'll be surprised by what you find out about Sunny Acres!

    And we need your help…we need you to be part of the solution
    Becky Jorgeson
    Public Relations
    Sunny Acres, Inc.


  • bjorgeso

    The Director of the shelter sits on our board of directors…I'm well aware of what goes on there…thanks…

    Our homeless can go in in the evening around 6pm and sleep only, if there is a bed for them – they must be out by approx 7am –

    “Habitation” is defined as “a place to live.” The MLS is a bed for the nite. The rest of the day folks have to roam the streets or be in the creek…moving…so they aren't arrested.

    Signing off for two weeks–off to Thailand w/younger son!

    PS Please go visit the ranch – our head volunteer, Matt ([email protected]),will be happy to show you around…I think you'll be surprised by what you find out about Sunny Acres!

    And we need your help…we need you to be part of the solution
    Becky Jorgeson
    Public Relations
    Sunny Acres, Inc.


  • King of all Lindinum

    It is ok for people to be killed by the cops or die in a bush, but for gods sake don’t let them have a camping lifestyle for a while. This is pathetic the people there thought it was bad they would leave. Their already subjugated to rules that oppress freedom of individuality on the left coast. West-coasters are too fascist anymore, too accepting of demonizing the working poor.

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