A Place in the Sun: The Case for Sunny Acres
I first heard about Sunny Acres in early 2010, a few weeks after the New York Times did an in-depth piece about it's founder Dan De Vaul who runs the sober living facility off his ranch in San Luis Obsipo, California. De Vaul was thrown in jail a few…
I first heard about Sunny Acres in early 2010, a few weeks after the New York Times did an in-depth piece about it's founder Dan De Vaul who runs the sober living facility off his ranch in San Luis Obsipo, California. De Vaul was thrown in jail a few days before Thanksgiving 2009 for constructing small cabins on his ranch to house fellow recovering addicts and homeless families. The local court escalated misdemeanor building code violations to jail time. The community was awestruck that a man who was helping the helpless could be so easily jailed on an minor infraction.
Homelessness in central California has reached critical, epidemic proportions and more people are sleeping outside. Some have died, many deaths go uncounted.. There is overflow into churches, private residences and back onto the streets. The city government struggles with the onslaught, scrambling to find solutions. One contributor who decided not to wait thru paperwork was a rancher, Dan De Vaul. No stranger to trauma, De Vaul opened his 72 acre ranch to anyone willing to walk the path of recovery and participate in an unsanctioned, unorthodox program based on no-nonsense self-reliance and the precepts of the 12 steps.
De Vaul's efforts have culminated in not a resounding gratefulness, but a badgering worry that his operation acts as a magnet to lower property values and attract more homelessness to the region. Since a disagreement with his neighbor, De Vaul and by association, Sunny Acres, continues to undergo a petty and vicious siege from the local authorities to humiliate and destroy the modest operation. The current judge has declared "It is simply wrong to say that any housing is better than no housing," which reads as "I'd rather people sleep outside than in safety at Sunny Acres." They assert that their letter of the law is more important than the spirit of the law. It's a baffling pronouncement when Sacramento houses their homeless in cheap Tuffy Sheds from Home Depot which are not at all safe or designed for humans, but are permitted because it filled an urgent, human need.
Last October, about two dozen people were evicted from these "illegal" sheds, some wound up back in their cars, including one woman with Alzheimers.
A controversial, cowboy-Ghandi figure, De Vaul's community efforts to contribute have been demonized by an insular local technocracy in the city that Oprah Winfrey calls "The Happiest Place on Earth." These same managers are building yet another shelter at the cost of millions of dollars, much of which De Vaul alleges, will go to their own salaries and positioned interests. "More money is spent on salaries & counting the homeless than actually helping them." We attended one of the local coalition meetings there, and the county's presented a slick research presentation on homelessness that was designed to do just that: simply count them.
De Vaul asked the city to build a 14 bedroom facility at his own expense, to code, and they instead slapped a debilitating judgement that will slowly deplete him of funds so he can comply with the finer degrees of implementing building rules. At every level of our interviews with government, neighbors, conservative news outlets and many who are not homeless, cite an intransigence to health and safety law as their #1 reason for not allowing De Vaul to help in his own way. Architects, three pro-bono lawyers, structural engineers, and the homeless that benefit from the shelter see it another way.
The Film's Purpose
The focus of the film is not only to reveal these ironies, but its also to call into compassionate relief some of the myriad forces upon individuals which precipitate these common scourges, including those expressed by the cultural fabric in a for-profit society. The documentary exposes the institutional players in this controversy and makes the case for autonomous places like Sunny Acres as a viable model, which not only save millions of dollars of government tax monies but providing a unique, voluntary group rehabilitation path for those suffering from homelessness and addictions, but also relieve shrinking, ineffective one-size fits all social programs.
The film intends to be used as a benefit for classrooms, drug treatment programs, shelters, policymakers, educators working in related fields and the local community.