The Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter got very full at the first of the year, to the point that my boyfriend, Jim, and I were being turned away more often than not. Jim had (and still has) a job, and sleeping in the rain at night, then trying to look respectable at work the next day, just wasn't happening. We managed to get ourselves out to the DeVaul ranch one extremely rainy night, to Mr. [Dan] DeVaul's warming station.
A few days later, we walked back up to the ranch and asked to speak with Mr. DeVaul personally. Dan sat down and spoke with us, asking us question about ourselves, how we managed to get ourselves into the position of being homeless, etc.
Mr. DeVaul was kind enough to take us in on the spot. He fed us, gave us warm and comfortable beds (in separate quarters, alas), and offered us the opportunity to work at his ranch in exchange for room and board. His only requirement was that we live a clean and sober existence (not a problem, we were already there) and he asked us to attend the one-hour AA and NA meetings on Tuesday and Thursday nights with our fellow Sunny Acres residents.
I worked as a cook for the first six weeks or so, with Jim put to work on weekends, making electrical repairs on various vehicles on the property. Jim still works his full-time job during weekdays, allowing us to save money to purchase a new vehicle before finding a place of our own.
As cook, I was in friendly contact with most every resident on the property, at least three times a day. At that point, I could honestly not tell you which residents were or were not sex offenders, and I never once felt uncomfortable (I worked with the original cook, Freddie Lewis, the first two weeks, and was stunned when he was arrested).
The folks out here have been nothing but gentlemen. They work their asses off, they eat everything not tied down, they go to church in a group, to Bible studies, to rehab meetings, to see their parole officers, and, in general, comport themselves in a humble, grateful, and dignified fashion. Their friends and families stop by to see them on occasion (with permission from management) and they have barbecues and watch movies for entertainment. Most everyone remains on the property the majority of the time. Work starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m., and most residents are in their beds watching HBO by 8 p.m.
This really isn't what some people think it is out here. It isn't at all what I thought it was. This program works. The difference between the guy who just crawled out of the creek and the guy who has been on the ranch a month is unbelievable. I've seen these folks come in, either skinny or bloated with alcohol, dog-tired, cold, and hating themselves. A month later, they are well fed, smiling men, joking around with each other and bragging about how they worked harder than the next man that day.
I have to say, I've truly enjoyed watching all of this ... well, maybe not all of it. It's been dicey here at best lately. We've lost a lot of our clients, as I am sure you are aware. Thanks to all the nonsense with the county, the news stations, and frightened parole officers, I now know who all the sex offenders were--they are all gone now.
I don't mind at all sleeping in a tent (I get to sleep alongside Jim now ...) and I don't mind having to scramble to get a shower, but I do mind watching these guys walk down the road to nothing but more homelessness, to the reality of drugs and alcohol, to most likely even more incarceration, and probably never to return.
For the past few weeks, I've been spending my working day at the law library downtown and out at Cal Poly in their library, researching in an attempt to help Dan deal with his legal issues. I've been working with Dan's personal assistant, Steve Jones, to find legal counsel.
I don't really know what I am hoping you can do for me, but I wanted to tell somebody about this. While I'm sure Sunny Acres appreciates all the supportive news coverage, it just seems to me that the outside world really has no idea what is truly going on out here. People hear the words "sex offender" and don't realize it can apply to that guy who just peed outside! The news bandies about sexy labels such as "addicts," "alcoholics," "sex offenders," "parolees," "homeless," etc. because they help sell airtime and newspapers. But I haven't heard the word "local citizen" applied once to anyone on this property, and that's what these folks really are.
Responses to Suzee Brunner's commentary can be sent care of Editor Ryan Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.