Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: In jail, rancher aims to raise awareness

Dan De Vaul does not claim to be a saint. He is a man, though one who seems to have been captivated by the spirit in a way that compels him to help some of the least fortunate in our society.

By going to jail, Mr. De Vaul hopes to raise awareness of some of the injustices that can occur as a result of government interactions with private land owners who choose to provide much-needed services, such as housing the homeless.

Sunny Acres, operated for nine years on Mr. De Vaul’s property, is the only place in San Luis Obispo County that provides a long-term living situation for people who were formerly homeless.

People who come to stay at Sunny Acres are grateful for a place to live and begin the process of getting their lives back on track.

I have spent the past several months volunteering and coordinating certain aspects of the Sunny Acres program, and would like to share what I have learned.

Residents are provided three hot meals a day, have access to 12-step recovery meetings and have a unique opportunity to rehabilitate at a pace that works for each on an individual basis. This is accomplished in large part by working on the ranch and performing jobs such as growing crops, caring for 40 head of cattle, repairing and maintaining farm equipment, welding, converting wine barrels into water barrels and more. These jobs build self esteem and provide rehabilitation that helps those who are get-ting sober to stay sober.

A small fee of $300 per month is asked of those who can afford it. Five volunteer hours a week, at a pace that fits the individual, is also asked. Those unable to pay the fee are given the opportunity to work it off.

In nine years of operation, the program has never seen a major incident or injury to any of its residents.

Those with alcohol and substance abuse problems are required to stay sober and are tested on a regular basis. For those who are not successful, they are once again treated on an individual basis and if a true willingness and desire remains to get sober, they are given repeat opportunities to realize long-term sobriety.

Residents range in age from 18 to 70. Some are war veterans. Others are former professionals who, through a series of unfortunate events and in many cases poor choices, have found themselves homeless.

County-run agencies have often referred many of the men and women who have come to stay at Sunny Acres. People working for these agencies have seen the good work being done for the residents living there.

SLO County has adopted a 10-year plan to end homelessness and Sunny Acres is uniquely positioned to help it realize this goal.

Mr. De Vaul envisions 10 of his 72 acres devoted to the homeless with the rest being developed in three tiers, beginning with some truly affordable housing. A master plan has been drawn up with some of the specifics required to see this vision become a reality.

Because Mr. De Vaul owns the land, this is a viable possibility that could shine a positive light on the county in terms of efforts to provide some truly affordable housing, as well as helping the homeless.

The program is unconventional, but it cannot be denied that many have been directly and positively affected through the efforts of Mr. De Vaul and the Sunny Acres program. It is truly a unique program, and given the mitigating circumstances, SLO County officials should forgive many of the alleged violations and begin to make it possible for the program to come into full fruition.

More info

To learn more, go to www.sunnyacresca.com.

Matt Lombardini has lived in San Luis Obispo County for more than 35 years and operated a local landscaping business for 25 years.