Help the homeless, go to jail!
January 19, 2010 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Dan du Vaul turned his family ranch into a homeless shelter and started making a difference. For this he ran afoul of the county and ended up in jail.

Additional video here.
posted by empty vessel (78 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. And to live in non-building code-compliant housing.
posted by GuyZero at 11:46 AM on January 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


This is a true American hero.
posted by Catblack at 11:48 AM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


While zoning certainly exists for a reason, and no one wants to see a factory pop up next to their house, it seems telling that the neighbor couldn't come up with a better complaint than "the land's not zoned for residential! It's agricultural land!"

How about compromising with du Vaul instead, and asking him to clean up the land a bit, and maybe even helping the neighbor out with his mission?
posted by explosion at 11:50 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


But then, explosion, you wouldn't win the argument. The point isn't to make things better, its to win.
posted by sandraregina at 11:53 AM on January 19, 2010


Building codes exist for a reason. It's all good fun until, y'know, someone gets burned alive.
posted by unSane at 11:57 AM on January 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


>> How about compromising with du Vaul instead, and asking him to clean up the land a bit

The DA says that they did exactly this, more than once. It doesn't sound like anyone's first impulse was to send De Vaul to jail.
posted by JohnFredra at 11:58 AM on January 19, 2010


What is better to take the chance on sub code housing that is better that most of what exists in the third world or leave these folks out in the elements with out any treatment options?
posted by empty vessel at 12:00 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, these structures might be okay if the zoning is different. Another bit of info that shows up in the comment for the article. They have been angling to build a sub division in the area. The neighbor seems to be linked to that in some way.
posted by empty vessel at 12:02 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is better to take the chance on sub code housing that is better that most of what exists in the third world or leave these folks out in the elements with out any treatment options?

While I'm sympathetic to that point of view, when someone dies in a fire in one of these "houses" no one is going to look at de Vaul as being a good Samaritan anymore. But it is a pretty shitty dilemma in while the poor people lose either way.
posted by GuyZero at 12:03 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Was it zoning or building code? I read it as being code violations, although obviously it was window-dressing for NIMBY either way.
posted by GuyZero at 12:04 PM on January 19, 2010


Officials also have safety concerns, including nearly a dozen hand-made wooden sheds — each with four beds — which Mr. de Vaul coated with crankcase oil, a flammable lubricant. (Mr. de Vaul says it gives the wood “life.”) The sheds have been condemned.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/us/12homeless.html?pagewanted=all
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:10 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Building codes exist for a reason. It's all good fun until, y'know, someone gets burned alive.

Thank you a thousand times. This is the crux of the issue.

The issue was not that he was housing the homeless, but that he refused to comply with building codes. This has been an on-going issue for years, and was a local story of interest for all of 2009. Health and safety are important, because if the County looks the other way and allows sub-standard situations to exist, they are liable for injuries and deaths.

Also, his property is next to a lake, so you have flooding issues to deal with, too. As you can see from the map, he's on the other side of the road from some rural residential lots, which were recently built (some are still under construction, I think). This is a unique area, with cattle grazing fields, open space preserves, and residential development, so there is a lot more here than just an old guy who lets homeless people sleep on his property.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:10 PM on January 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


Why is this post tagged with 'acholism'? What does alcohol have to do with building codes and zoning issues?
posted by spicynuts at 12:17 PM on January 19, 2010


Building codes exist for a reason. It's all good fun until, y'know, someone gets burned alive.

But we should be able to issue exemptions, should we not? In a case where the options are Option A, dubious shelter, or Option B, no shelter?

Health and safety are important, because if the County looks the other way and allows sub-standard situations to exist, they are liable for injuries and deaths.

Could these exemptions come with a mandatory waiver for occupants? Is there something (this is a genuine question) dramatically wrong with this idea?
posted by voronoi at 12:17 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Um, there are a few things here that seem to make it more of a gray area. For one thing, he charges rent, either cash or in the form of work. That makes it seem more like a trailer park than a homeless shelter. $300 a month may be pretty cheap by California standards, but it's still rent. Also, it's pretty easy to cry NIMBY when it's not your back yard; would you like living next to an improvised junkyard? No? Well, then.

And could you fix what I assume is supposed to be an "alcoholism" tag? Thxbai.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:20 PM on January 19, 2010


each with four beds — which Mr. de Vaul coated with crankcase oil, a flammable lubricant. (Mr. de Vaul says it gives the wood “life.”)

The scare-mongering game is fun. Various polishes, cleansers, and waxes are flammable. They also keep things clean, deter pests, and prevent rot and mold.

refused to comply with building codes.

Building residences for humans on his agricultural plot is automatically against building codes. There is no way he could have done this in compliance.
posted by explosion at 12:20 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]



Could these exemptions come with a mandatory waiver for occupants? Is there something (this is a genuine question) dramatically wrong with this idea?


I'd say the entire history of civil suits is what's wrong with that idea. Sad but true. The expense for a city/town/county even to argue immunity against a lawsuit can be more than a small budget can handle.
posted by spicynuts at 12:20 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


This isn't an accidental violation of building codes we're talking about. He's been warned and cited before and he's going to jail because he refuses to fix the violation.

It's great that he's trying to help people but we have laws like this for a reason.
posted by bshort at 12:21 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the article:

I was in court the day DeVaul’s attorney stated Dan had brought on over 350,000 yards of fill material without any permits.

Either that's a mistake or DeVaul is planning on burying his entire 72 acres under 3 feet of fill.
posted by electroboy at 12:24 PM on January 19, 2010


Hmmph, jinx and jinx. But this needs a response:

Is there something (this is a genuine question) dramatically wrong with this idea?

What part of "highly-flammable potential death trap" is not making it through YourFilter? The whole idea behind this sort of building code isn't that there's an easy "well, he meant well, so too bad for any future human briquettes" exemption.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:24 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there something (this is a genuine question) dramatically wrong with this idea?

I don't think it works that way. You can't say "I understand I might die in this building, but I'm OK with that." I really don't think you can say that for people who are renting such substandard buildings, especially if they're living there with the idea this is the best they can get.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:24 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Either that's a mistake or DeVaul is planning on burying his entire 72 acres under 3 feet of fill.

Most, if not all of that land, is in a flood hazard zone, so that may have been his intent. Raise it all up, and you're safe. Also, this is not legal without proper permits.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:27 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The scare-mongering game is fun.

Not really the point - just highlighting the fact that intelligent people don't often use crankcase oil as a wood finish. I think it shows that his judgment is questionable, and while some zoning laws are outright silly, it generally isn't a good practice to coat wood with something that may make it brittle or slipper and acts as a solvent against paint and other finishes.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:28 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


>> Building residences for humans on his agricultural plot is automatically against building codes. There is no way he could have done this in compliance.

I don't think that's completely true. Several of the comments mentioned designating the space as a farm labor camp to allow onsite housing.
posted by JohnFredra at 12:28 PM on January 19, 2010


As far as the tag goes He runs a 12 step program as far of his program.

Again, why doesn't the county help him out versus getting in the way?

Also, as to the legal question. Why if one of these shelters burns down is it a law suit but, when some dies in the street from exposure there isn't a lawsuit?
posted by empty vessel at 12:30 PM on January 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


Tag fixed.
posted by empty vessel at 12:32 PM on January 19, 2010


Raise it all up, and you're safe. Also, this is not legal without proper permits.

I worked for a FEMA map contractor for awhile. Worst job I ever had. The best customers we had to deal with were people who hired engineers to prepare their applications, the worst were the ones that prepared their own, except for the "expedited" applications, which meant a senator or rep had called FEMA on an applicant's behalf.
posted by electroboy at 12:37 PM on January 19, 2010


Again, why doesn't the county help him out versus getting in the way?

There is a long history of trying to help him out. Check the history of articles on the local paper, San Luis Obispo Tribune. They're not all great articles, but they're from the local perspective.

At some point, you realize the person either wants to fight, or is so stuck in his ways that there is no helping them. Going through courts is not the ideal way to fix such issues. It takes time and costs money for both sides, and when the County is taking someone to court over building issues, that means they've tried everything else.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:37 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


>> Why if ... some dies in the street from exposure there isn't a lawsuit?

Who would you propose to sue?
posted by JohnFredra at 12:39 PM on January 19, 2010


“It’s not an option,” Mr. Brainerd said of returning to that shelter, while cooking a meal of cheddar cheese melted on a hot dog.

I submit this as one of the most awkward sentences ever written.
posted by electroboy at 12:41 PM on January 19, 2010


How kind of our public servants. Look at them serving the public. What good helpers they are.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:42 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The big problem with mandatory waivers, or waivers of the building codes, or anything along those lines, is that it wouldn't be limited to this guy. Assuming the court let his tenants/charges waive their right to a safe building, how long would it take for that clause to end up in the standard boilerplate for every single slumlord-owned apartment building? A week? And we'd sign it, because everyone would do it, and there's no way of fighting them.

Rights like that are inalienable to prevent power disparities forcing alienation.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:43 PM on January 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


He's also not just letting the homeless stay on his property free of charge--dude is charging rent. Granted, it's exceedingly generous rent, and he has some non-standard terms that he lets people use to pay it off, but he's still basically a landlord. Rephrase this case as "landlord would rather go to prison than pay to bring hazardously undermaintained buildings up to code for low-income renters who can't afford to go anywhere else," and you get a very different story than the one Cal Coast News has printed.
posted by Mayor West at 12:45 PM on January 19, 2010 [14 favorites]


While part of my bleeding liberal heart is outraged that this guy can't do the good he's doing for those who can't defend themselves, the other part of my bleeding liberal heart realizes that rules like this exist entirely for those who can't defend themselves.

(on preview, this is pretty much what Lemurrhea just said much better.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:48 PM on January 19, 2010


>> dude is charging rent

And according to this quote, he's making a bit of a profit:
In August, rental receipts totaled $3,500, of that approximately $1,500 went to utilities, insurance and supplies. In addition, De Vaul said he paid a total of $500 a week in wages to those residents who work for their rent at Sunny Acres.
posted by JohnFredra at 12:51 PM on January 19, 2010


The rent includes food as well. Try to house and feed a person for $300 per month, not easy. I agree that if what he is doing could be brought in line with code that would be great. It seems like the county would rather have something more revenue generating on this parcel.

Keep in mind he was offered probation if he evicted these folks. I doubt he is doing this for any sort of personal gain.

Also, the motor oil technique has been used for a long time. Telephone poles and wooden signposts are soaked in an oil\creosote compound. People have used this on the decks of wooden boats as well. I agree there are better ways of water proofing these shelters.
posted by empty vessel at 1:00 PM on January 19, 2010


And according to this quote, he's making a bit of a profit:

In August, rental receipts totaled $3,500, of that approximately $1,500 went to utilities, insurance and supplies. In addition, De Vaul said he paid a total of $500 a week in wages to those residents who work for their rent at Sunny Acres.


$1500 + 4(weeks)*$500 = $1500 + $2000 = $3500.

The rental receipts are essentially covering the costs and then putting any excess into the pockets of those without any other means. He's not pocketing a dime, at least from that quote.
posted by explosion at 1:09 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dirty Dan's not actually building anything for the homeless, but instead assembling garden sheds that are coated with crankcase oil. Several have already burst into flames. He cares a lot about the homeless and down-and-out, and for these hovels he collects between 10 and 15 thousand $ each month in rent for the 40 to 70 people who are there. Crankcase oil is expensive. The recent rains, and the coming storms, will submerge much of the land he occupies, despite his attempts to fill it in with toxic waste, but this will not damage the sheds where the homeless keep their hooch. In the local press Dan's 'Sonny Achers' (Sunny Acres) is always followed by the words 'a clean and sober living facility'. The words are never capitalized because this is a big joke here.

In the past he filled in a good bit of the wetlands so that a motor cycle racing track could be built, for the homeless presumably. What a guy. His citations for animal cruelty and abuse, including crippling and killing a cow with his jeep that was too successful at evading his cowboy herding techniques, was also done for the homeless. He's my hero. The NIMBY people who are complaining about this guy are worried for their children since Dan was not too particular in the past about from whom he would accept rent money, and registered sex offenders were welcome. But hey, he's doing this for the homeless; a homeless sex offender is a person who should be coddled, especially when he receives money from social services that he can give to Dan. It's for the homeless see, so everything is ok. He's been fighting county and city ordinances for a decade now, and it's for the homeless who provide a shield for all his otherwise totally asinine ideas.

Yes, Catblack, this guy is a true American hero. So is Obama, spineless war criminal and sycophant of Wall Street who, rather than bringing W. up on charges for obstructing justice and violating international treaties about killing civilians, has sent both Bush and Clinton (both war criminals) to Haiti where what passes for humanitarianism is an operating theater on an aircraft carrier that cost $2 million/day to maintain, a cost that is included in the sum Obama says were are spending upon aid to Haiti. The Marines are moving in with their rifles to help people there, sorta like New Orleans after Katrina, when Blackwater and the local cops provided security for the white folk by randomly shooting dark-skinned people, like Obama. This is the future, folks, the age of Aquarius, where our heroes are the scum that has risen to the top.
posted by Veridicality at 1:10 PM on January 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm still a little puzzled as to why he coated the sheds with crankcase oil (the NY Times article has it poorly worded which makes it ambiguous whether the bed frames are coated or the whole shed). In the article they quote him saying "It gives the wood "life"" which literally makes no sense. I doubt it would offer much waterproofing which is probably not that important in the central valley anyway. It just seems like crazy flammable frosting on a big cake made of crazy.

Also, "crankcase oil" could be a variety of things with varying levels of flammability but all pretty toxic.
posted by GuyZero at 1:27 PM on January 19, 2010


De Vaul's property used to be outside the neighborhoods, but now there are a bunch of brand new McMansions being built on the hillside overlooking the "ranch." As soon as they arrived, I knew the property was not likely to last.

In fairness, Dan could have simply accepted a fine for the terrible state of his property, but he decided (very much correctly) that taking a stand would get his plight more attention. Local paper, NY Times and now Metafilter.
posted by letitrain at 1:45 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I fully support his goal of helping the homeless, but this is not the way to go about solving that particular problem. Here in the city we call people like him "slumlords", even though they provide the "public service" of very low rents to the poor. Gee, if the poor want to live in firetrap houses with broken windows, no water, or no heat, why not let them? Isn't that capitalism?

Disclaimer: I am a landlord.
posted by dhartung at 1:50 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


>> He's not pocketing a dime, at least from that quote.

Whoops -- you're right! My brain skipped over the 'per week' part of the wages. My mistake.
posted by JohnFredra at 2:02 PM on January 19, 2010


DuVaul is a long-time local 'character' and crank in S.L.O. county, an area with more bleeding hearts and former hippies than most (also, most of us like being called 'SLO', and abbreviate the name of the road he's on as 'LOVR'). And I had heard of most of the issues Verdicality raised, but don't necessarily agree with his suggestion that he's using the homeless sheltering as a cover for other shenanigans. He's just a bad kind of 'fiercely independent' person and that made inevitable his problems with local authorities (no matter how sympathetic, and some of them really are). I just wish somebody more responsible was taking up the cause, even (especially?) if it meant bypassing DuVaul (who hasn't been cooperative toward some other offers of help).

I did get a chuckle at how Vert used the last paragraph to show his lefty cred and derail charges that he was a local NIMBY. But seriously, these days, if you're not running afoul of some law, somehow, you aren't doing anything (and outlaws are criminals with successful PR).
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:09 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here in the city we call people like him "slumlords", even though they provide the "public service" of very low rents to the poor.

Yes, a thousand times yes.

And the "well, people live in worse standards in the developing world" doesn't fly. I want US landlords to be responsible for providing better-than-developing-world living conditions for the people who pay them rent, and it's not like peer pressure alone will do this.

"Help the homeless" doesn't send you to jail. "Making a deathtrap shantytown and charging rent for it" sends you to jail, and that's A-OK with me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:14 PM on January 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I doubt it would offer much waterproofing which is probably not that important in the central valley anyway.

You picked the wrong week to make that observation (3 inches of rain in the last two days, more rain for the next three, with the heaviest expected tomorrow). And this is not the 'central valley' of California, this is the CENTRAL COAST (less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and, yeah, imagine that with a 'THIS IS SPARTA' delivery).
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:16 PM on January 19, 2010


Also, his property is next to a lake, so you have flooding issues to deal with, too. As you can see from the map, he's on the other side of the road from some rural residential lots, which were recently built (some are still under construction, I think). This is a unique area, with cattle grazing fields, open space preserves, and residential development, so there is a lot more here than just an old guy who lets homeless people sleep on his property.

Yeah, he lives near rich people who don't want so many stinky homeless nearby killing their property values!
posted by delmoi at 2:17 PM on January 19, 2010


This reminds me of a Christian camp for economically disadvantaged kids I would work at summers during college 15 + years ago. Everything then was safe but marginal. The county tried to clam the land under immanent domain so they could make it into a park. I recently went back there and everything is brand new and top notch.

Hopefully things will go this way for Dan. I believe his heart is in the right place and maybe the attention will get some folks involved who will help him get the facilities where they need to be.


Eventually our society will need to really deal with degree to which human beings are expendable.

I like what he says at the end of this video "... if your give a damn ain't brusted and you make up your mind to do something about you can do something about it, your inteligent, and if you really make up your mind, you can do something about it..."

Made me look at where my "give a damn was busted"
posted by empty vessel at 2:17 PM on January 19, 2010


When people talk about crankcase oil, they usually mean the stuff you drain out of your car when you change the oil. It's only expensive when you don't have a convenient way to dispose of it, so people look for other uses. Some auto shops use it for heat.
posted by electroboy at 2:29 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


And this is not the 'central valley' of California, this is the CENTRAL COAST

Oops, reading failure on my part. Never the less, if I wanted waterproofing crankcase oil wouldn't be one of my top 1,000 choices.
posted by GuyZero at 2:31 PM on January 19, 2010


Yeah, he lives near rich people who don't want so many stinky homeless nearby killing their property values!

Actually, there's a pretty sizable buffer between his land where people actually stay, and the homes (both new and old). To the south-east is the Let It Be Nature Preserve, and there is a sizable buffer between Sunny Acres and the neighbors across Los Osos Valley Road. You don't notice "the stinky homeless" from such a distance, but you do see the rusty trailers and cars being stored on-site.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:40 PM on January 19, 2010


Here it is on Google Maps.
posted by unSane at 3:08 PM on January 19, 2010


[look like a freakin' disaster]
posted by unSane at 3:08 PM on January 19, 2010


If you zoom out a couple of clicks you can see the new housing developments.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the case, the visual geography tells you this is not a battle he will win.
posted by unSane at 3:17 PM on January 19, 2010


I'm shocked that so many people in this thread would rather see these people homeless than allow them to choose whether or not the residence deal offered by Mr. du Vaul is worth the risk. In true bleeding-heart fashion, it's always exploitation, even if the users choose to live there by their own free will.

And what practice is so valued that these people should be tossed out into the street? Why, zoning laws, of course. We have to preserve the state's right to tell you how to use your property! While some people are obviously suffering, we can't allow them to choose to stay here and risk potentially suffering sometime in the future.

Perfect is, once again, the enemy of good. People will end up homeless again, but at least there's not some potential they will get killed by their housing.
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 3:24 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


So how exactly would you propose to enforce building codes on anyone else, given that you're willing to give this guy a pass?
posted by unSane at 3:30 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of stuff you can get away with when you live out in the boonies that you can't get away with when you are next door to a subdivision. Similarly, there's a lot of things you could get away with a few decades back -- especially involving wetlands and river edges -- that you can't do so easily today.

I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and agree that his heart is in the right place, without necessarily agreeing that he is going about it the right way. It sure looks like he is more interested in the fight than he is in making the long term investment of money and time to find a solution that actually works, for example.
posted by Forktine at 3:32 PM on January 19, 2010


Various polishes, cleansers, and waxes are flammable.

I'm just popping to to say that while this is strictly true (the danish oil I like to use can burst into flames if you leave some dirty rags in the sun), it ignores the reason crankcase oil is a bad idea for furniture. Danish oil, linseed oil, stains, and varnishes are all flammable, but they cure (polymerize) in a short time. After this they're no longer flammable. Lubricating oils, like crankcase oil, do not polymerize. They wouldn't be much good at lubricating if they did - your engine block would turn into a solid shiny mass.

Crankcase oil will penetrate the wood and probably provide some protection from damp, but it will remain liquid, slippery, and flammable effectively forever. One cigarette on a hot day could send a whole shack up in flames pretty quick.
posted by echo target at 3:47 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I'm still a little puzzled as to why he coated the sheds with crankcase oil (the NY Times article has it poorly worded which makes it ambiguous whether the bed frames are coated or the whole shed). In the article they quote him saying 'It gives the wood 'life'' which literally makes no sense. I doubt it would offer much waterproofing which is probably not that important in the central valley anyway. It just seems like crazy flammable frosting on a big cake made of crazy."

I wonder if when they say crankcase oil they were meaning transmission fluid. I've used drums of transmission fluid to stain wood fences; it behaves much like standard oil stain base and is about as flammable. Engine oil would work too, especially if you cut it a bit with lacquer thinner to thin it out. As to why, I'd bet he was getting it for free or next to.
posted by Mitheral at 3:50 PM on January 19, 2010


If this guy can get away with building barely habitable shacks for itinerant laborers on his land, how are you going to prevent the other big agribusinesses in the state doing the same for their illegal alien workforces?

There are good ways to work on the problem of homelessness- counseling, housing assistance, training, and so on. Sharecropping in hovels isn't on the list.
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:53 PM on January 19, 2010


"Danish oil, linseed oil, stains, and varnishes are all flammable, but they cure (polymerize) in a short time."

This isn't true, there are quite a few non filming finishes. Mineral oil for example doesn't form a film and is used as a food safe oil treatment on counter tops, bowls, cutting boards and baby toys.
posted by Mitheral at 3:56 PM on January 19, 2010


There are good ways to work on the problem of homelessness- counseling, housing assistance, training, and so on. Sharecropping in hovels isn't on the list.

Funny how this list didn't make it to any of the people living there now. Funny how the DA hasn't made, nor has any obligation to make, arrangements in the facilities that are on your list.

Oh wait, it's not funny, because there are no resources for these people but what this man has given. The DA and all the NIMBYists aren't funding a new shelter for all these people, they are just kicking them onto the street, fully aware that there is no alternative for these people.

This list you talk about, it's all in your head. These people need a place to live now, and Herman's Head notwithstanding, it doesn't sound like you have any actual helpful suggestions for these people, just alot of moralizing about how you know better than they do about how they should live their lives, and how dare they have a roof over their head.
posted by nomisxid at 4:14 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


yes, crankcase oil, after you drain it out of the crankcase, when you have no plan of returning it to the recycling drum at the GreaseMonkey or the county sanitary landfill. most people around here just pour it into the ground.

it doesn't so much waterproof your shed/shack/whatever as keep it from rotting so quickly. also it repels bugs - termites, carpenter ants, paper wasps, whatever - like nobody's business. and if you live in the southern united states, this is a priority for you.

and it's free! that's also a priority when you have like 200 outbuildings on your 70-whatever acres.

is it flammable? yep. is it dumb? you betcha. does pretty much everybody who lives in the deep sticks use it? hell yeah!

and, I didn't go look exactly where this guy lives, but in our county (1100 square miles, ~40k population), if you don't live in the city limits of one of the four cities that has a code enforcement officer, nobody will ever ever ever bug you about any triviality like fire hazards or groundwater pollution unless you do something dumb like call someone from the county about giving you a permit for something. even then, if you play dumb and don't do anything, they'll usually forget all about you.

so this sounds like more a case of civilization encroaching on this guy, since I haven't seen anything real unusual, relative to how they do it in rural north fla. not that it's not heinous - just not unusual.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:30 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


If this guy can get away with building barely habitable shacks for itinerant laborers on his land, how are you going to prevent the other big agribusinesses in the state doing the same for their illegal alien workforces?

you don't know how right you already are
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:35 PM on January 19, 2010


I'm shocked that so many people in this thread would rather see these people homeless than allow them to choose whether or not the residence deal offered by Mr. du Vaul is worth the risk.

Holy fuck, you are missing the entire point of building codes and occupancy permits.

The argument "But people can make a choice not to live here!" is one always dragged out by slumlords, as is "But they'll have nowhere else to live!"

I don't think Mr. du Vaul is a slumlord, in that he certainly doesn't seem to be doing this for profit. But if you give one person a bye on constructing a below-code shantytown because he has a good heart, there's no way to stop people from constructing below-code shantytowns for profit.

And maybe you think that's okay, because you're an absolute libertarian. In which case, a) I beg to differ, and b) Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:04 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


When DAN finds some good advice and hopefully pro bono from a lawyer, he might be able to do this the right way. I estimate that it would probably take about $50k to build some proper camping cabins. With a little PR that should be no problem.

I really doubt that he's thinking that way though. The idea of using used oil that way really troubles me makes me think that he's kooky as hell. Usually that stuff is contaminated with gasoline and coolant. Those shacks are disasters waiting to happen.

So, while I love Dan's idea, I also think that his planning and implementation suck.
posted by snsranch at 6:20 PM on January 19, 2010


I wonder what would happen if someone offered to build decent accommodations on the plot? I am sure the county board would be tripping all over themselves to re-zone to allow that to happen.


Dan has his quirks and the lives he has made a difference in. The county has it's building codes and excuses as to why there is no where else to go for these people.


I do not think it is okay that any one would have to make a choice between sub standard shelter with an opportunity to get clean and staying on addicted on the streets. He may not be the most sophisticated guy out there. What he did do was take what ever resources he had and did the best that he could. That is inspiring to me.

He has accomplished more than most of us sophisticated folks. It is to our shame that he has to do it the way he has been. I would guess that many of his critics find it easier to complain about the "shanty town" than to deal with the issue of the homeless. Free market economics is a zero sum game the more I have the less some else does. In a capitalist society you need to deal with that at some level. You can look at this and reach out or you avoid it at all costs. Mr de Vaul's property is a monument to the failings of our government and the indifference in our culture. That makes people uncomfortable, even if he goes away these people who are staying there won't. The county and the community should be helping him out, not trying to steal his property and put him in prison.


As far as publicity seeking goes he should have put a giant flag in his front yard that annoyed his neighbors Fox News might have actually covered this then.
posted by empty vessel at 6:35 PM on January 19, 2010


Two wrongs totally don't make a right. Sheesh. Putting people in slums = bad, putting people on street = bad. These two things exist independently, and one does not cancel the other.
posted by smoke at 7:59 PM on January 19, 2010


and b) Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.
Weren't they locked in so they couldn't skive off of work? In addition to the no fire escapes etc.
posted by rubah at 8:07 PM on January 19, 2010


Some more DeVaul stories from Cal Coast News.
posted by hortense at 9:25 PM on January 19, 2010


Yes, they were.

But I'm genuinely curious here. How many commenters on this thread have ever actually had nowhere to go but the street? The closest I ever got was an abandoned chicken coop. It wasn't clean, or safe, but if you'd told me to leave, say, in the rain, I would have argued quite strenuously with you. It's all very well to comment, on a dry computer, about slumlord incentives, safety, and all those good things (they are good things), but if it's raining right now, and you are inside, those arguments are missing the point. And it's a real point.
posted by carping demon at 10:12 PM on January 19, 2010


carping demon wrote: "abandoned chicken coop."

Interestingly, that chicken coop was probably more hazardous to your health than this guy's shacks.

And FWIW, that plot of land looks grand compared to much of the rural land where I'm from.

And just for the record: I really hate it when developers build subdivisions out in the sticks and then the new homeowners get all pissy when their non-subdivision-inhabiting neighbors don't live like townies do. I've seen it too many times.

And I don't know, I've always found transmission fluid to be much more flammable than motor oil, used or no. If you pour motor oil on a small fire, it will put the fire out. If you pour transmission fluid on a similar small fire, you get a big fire. I've seen this in person.
posted by wierdo at 11:10 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


It may have been. But it beat the street all to hell. The coop was doable. The street was a blank hole.
posted by carping demon at 1:29 AM on January 20, 2010


Formwork for concrete is typically coated in oil to prevent the concrete from bonding to the wooden forms. There's commercial form oil out there, but it's mostly diesel fuel. Having seen a formwork fire, I can confidently say that coating plywood with oil is mostly a bad idea.
posted by electroboy at 6:58 AM on January 20, 2010


@carping demon I have never been with out a place. I have been lucky in that regard. When I was in college I spent time working in shelters. When I got a career and a life and got "busy". A recent stint of unemployment has me thinking about getting back involved in some way. Not sure what that might be quite yet.
posted by empty vessel at 8:50 AM on January 20, 2010


Additional context about the area around Duval's "ranch," Sunny Acres. If you zoom out of Google Maps, or follow Los Osos Valley Road from Los Osos to San Luis Obispo, it's less than 6 miles from the edge of the community of Los Osos to the City of SLO, and LOVR is a well-maintained thoroughfare (even though it's just two lanes). The other route into San Luis Obispo passes large agriculture lots, but it's about 2 miles to get into neighborhoods. This is a quiet corner of a developed City, near another community. It's the last rural section on this side of town, but it's not really "the sticks."

I agree it's annoying to see previously open fields get filled with residential suburban development (~1 acre lots), because it's no longer open, but it's not really a neighborhood community.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:13 AM on January 20, 2010


carping demon wrote: "It may have been. But it beat the street all to hell. The coop was doable. The street was a blank hole."

Having at various times had to sleep under the stars due to an acute lack of shelter and having had no particular home, but a legion of friends who were willing to lend me a couch (although never both conditions at once), I know that both not having a home and not having shelter both suck. I can only imagine the exponential increase in suckage that must come from both not having a warm place to sleep and not having a home. I'm lucky that I haven't yet had both issues coincident.


filthy light thief wrote: "I agree it's annoying to see previously open fields get filled with residential suburban development (~1 acre lots), because it's no longer open, but it's not really a neighborhood community."

I'm more annoyed by the folks who move out into the previously undeveloped area and then complain about the neighbors doing what people do in undeveloped areas than the subdivisions themselves. Oftentimes the folks who move out there don't grasp the concept of people who live differently than they do, and want to impose their standards on the people who live out of town.

Of course, that also happens when someone decides to buy 5 acres on their own, so it's not specifically subdivision living that causes the friction, it's people who expect suburban behavior out in the country. (And yes, in many places 6 miles is far enough to get your hick on)
posted by wierdo at 2:27 PM on January 20, 2010


Oftentimes the folks who move out there don't grasp the concept of people who live differently than they do, and want to impose their standards on the people who live out of town.

yep, that'd be me, complaining about each one of my neighbors picking a different night of the month to burn garbage *all night*, so instead of one hellacious bad night, it stinks like burning dog hair all the time.

and speaking of dog hair, I'm the one bitching about the 15 mangy-ass dogs loose in the street all the time, and in my yard, and chasing me when I'm trying to go for a run. and speaking of mange, that's another thing you can use old motor oil for, or so I'm told.

any other hoity-toity suburban standards I'm trying to force on my neighbors? well, I'm trying to convince them that having a real concrete septic tank installed is a better idea than running the shitter line out to a bunch of 55-gallon highway paint drums buried in the yard.

I guess I could think of some more stuff, but right now I have to get out there with my .22 plinkster and make those bad kids get off my lawn!

oh, and hamburger. well, a little hamburger.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:58 PM on January 20, 2010


If anybody reads down here, SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill is championing the construction of a 200-bed Homeless Facility in a pretty-much developed part of town (Google Map), and there's not much of a NIMBY contingent opposing it. But they apparently have an extra zoning complication since it's under the flight path of the local airport. Sigh.

I'm pleasantly amazed they're anywhere close to funding it, with government in California having money problems on all levels of jurisdiction. But i just wanted to point out that my adopted hometown does not hate the homeless. Honest!
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:27 PM on February 12, 2010


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