On Saturday, Feb. 4, Lisa Van Heuver sent the following e-mail to SLO County supervisors Frank Mecham, Bruce Gibson, Adam Hill, Paul Teixeira, and Jim Patterson.
This is in regards to Sunny Acres. My 23-year-old son is now living there trying to get off drugs and live sober.
He became addicted to pain medication after a car fell on him during Auto Shop class at Morro Bay High School in 2005 crushing his back. He has had a hard time. He has no insurance, home, money or job. The Teacher and District were found negligent and my son was awarded money which the lawyers, Doctors, and expert witnesses took all the money. It was a very bad blow to my son and I.
It has come to my attention that Sunny Acres has been under threat by the county. Please help and support this place.
This is a mother’s plea to you. Help support Sunny Acres for kids like mine. I will be taking him to county Services Monday for medical help as well for I am disabled and have no insurance.
He is now asking for help finally!
This County needs places like Sunny Acres. Help save our kids by supporting.
Lisa Van Heuver
Two and a half months after writing this letter, Lisa Van Heuver was murdered, and her son, Michael Van Heuver, was arrested and charged. He’d bounced between Sunny Acres and county mental health services—which held Michael less than 24 hours before returning him to Sunny Acres. And from what I’ve read and heard, Dan De Vaul insisted, the entire time, that Michael’s mental illness made it impossible for him to live in a group setting; Michael needed a space where he could retreat to avoid conflict. But since the county shut down these buildings last summer, due to code violations, there wasn’t space.
So now we’re left to deal with a tragedy that could so easily have been averted had the supervisors, the judge, the people who are paid to offer services to the homeless and mentally ill simply listened. They could have listened to any one of the dozens of stories of heartbreak and misfortune and allowed someone who was willing to help, to provide a service the county could not—and at no public expense—to continue his good work. They could have listened to Lisa Van Heuver’s desperate e-mail pleading for help for her son. Instead, they made decision after decision based on their egos—“no, no, homeless people, it’s better and safer for you to live in the creek, trust us, we’re wealthy politicians”—just for the opportunity to put uppity Dan De Vaul in his place.
For that matter, Dan De Vaul could have simply corrected his code violations instead of fighting with the county and digging in his heels like a stubborn mule. The point is, everyone seems to have put their ego ahead of the public good.
And Lisa Van Heuver paid
I’m sure the supervisors will express their sadness at the tragedy of Lisa Van Heuver’s death, avoiding at all costs, of course, accepting their share of responsibility for a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions in this happiest of places. And their lip service won’t mean a hell of a lot. Because at the next available opportunity, they’ll make the exact same decisions all over again, pretending they know what’s best for the homeless and mentally ill while offering no housing options whatsoever for someone like Michael, who suffers from both drug addiction and mental illness. And they’ll all talk about what a wonderful job CAPSLO is doing—a favorite topic of conversation among the supervisors for rather obvious reasons—while completely dismissing the myriad people who don’t fall within CAPSLO’s rather narrow window of services. In fact, this very tragedy may just become yet another opportunity for them to pat themselves on the back for the limited services they offer. It doesn’t help that CAPSLO has a reputation for taking swipes at other organizations and individuals—including Sunny Acres—that coordinate efforts on behalf of the homeless, either. You don’t get a monopoly on taking care of the disenfranchised, not when there are people like Michael and Lisa Van Heuver who fall through the cracks.
There is no A for effort or caring here. Not while the creeks are teeming with the disenfranchised and the San Luis Obispo Police Department’s only responsibility seemingly is chasing homeless people off benches. (Seriously, guys, what are they there for, if not for people to sit on?!?) You don’t get to stroke each other and CAPSLO while people are running in circles trying to find help for themselves or a loved one.
Lisa Van Heuver died May 12, one day shy of Mother’s Day. There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Maybe that’s a tired and played out sentiment. But what’s the point of banding together for the good times, tee ball and science camp, only to abandon one another when the going gets tough? Where can parents turn, if their local government turns its back?
I don’t know if it takes a village to raise a child, but it seems that a village can neglect a life. And now one of those lives is over, and the other is likely ruined. And in this case, that village was funded by your tax dollars and allegedly making the decisions that it did “for the public good.”
Shredder prefers comedies to tragedy. Send stories ending in marriage to firstname.lastname@example.org.