Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Who is Val Jon Farris and what is his organization iCare-America up to?

The video, below, [from a 2/25 late-evening news broadcast on channel 3 in Sac'to] is featured on the homepage of iCare-America. In all ways it shows Val Jon Farris, the founder and president of iCare, to be a friend toward and, even, a new member of the metropolitan-Sacramento Homeless community.



Here, a second KRCA video where reporter Brian Hickey interviews Farris, which I cannot embed. This, from a report broadcast earlier on the day of 2/25 than the embedded video, above.

Recently, Farris was involved in a bit of a dust-up with Loaves & Fishes chief executive Libby Fernandez and Sacramento Assistant city manager Cassandra Jennings, as reported in a KCRA text article. In the article we are told that Farris was distributing tents, sleeping bags and cots to people living in the Wasteland encampment, but Fernandez and Jennings objected.

Fernandez said. "For one thing, you have to have trash pickup. You bring things out there like clothing, suitcases food, water ... it just builds up an accumulation of trash." She also says, "homeless residents need to find help off-site and shouldn't be catered to."

Jennings agreed with Fernandez: "It's not safe," Jennings said. "It's not healthy and those people deserve better." Jennings said the city wants to channel donations through other venues like Loaves & Fishes and food banks.

As most homeless citizens of Sacramento are very well aware, individuals and very small organizations give life-saving goods and services to we homeless many times, absolutely every day. Direct giving is by far the most efficient, best way to help homeless Sacramentans.

But while Farris's actions can be assessed as wholly compassionate, what are he and his organization really up to? How is it that recently-made-homeless Farris has an organization behind his donation-giving? And how is it that Farris is in a position to act as a Good Samaritan when he is, himself, broke, busted and out-of-luck?

At the iCare website, we are told that the organization is a 501(c)3 non-profit, registered in California. Wikipedia gives us this definition of the IRS-proscibed purpose of a 501(c)(3): "Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations."

iCare-America is probably a new organization, since I cannot find any listing for it at GuideStar, a service I subscribe to that gathers information about non-profit organizations. There is nothing I could find at the iCare webspace that cites its founding date. [See update, below.] Indeed, the date issue raises some yellow flags for me. A message from Val Jon Farris at the webspace is undated. I cannot find a business address for iCare-America at their webspace, nor from a look-up on the online yellow pages. A friend of mine says he found, somewhere, that they are headquartered in Tehachapi, CA. I cannot verify that.

The iCare-America webspace is in many, many ways very impressive. Unfortunately, merely seeming to be impressive is nothing. Talking the talk is cheap; truly walking the walk as a valid, purely compassionate, low-overhead do-gooder organization is something else, again. I cannot find enough reason to dismiss, in my mind, the very real possibility that Farris might be a wolf in sheep's clothing.

In an email Farris sent to me, today, in response to my question to him, which was, essentially "What do YOU want?," he wrote:

I want to be of service to others and I want America to wake up to the sacred action of giving, giving from their hearts, not from their heads. I want America and Americans to reclaim their integrity, their sense of decency and their willingness to get off their high horse. I spent the first half of my life “getting what I want,” Tom. And you know what I learned? WE CAN NEVER GET ENOUGH OF WHAT WE/I DON’T REALLY WANT. What don’t we want, Tom? In our hearts we don’t want to be selfish, we don’t want to control and we don’t want to cause damage to life. Now is that what we actually do? ... I plan on spending the second half of my life, “giving.” I already had all the stuff, the American Dream, the house, cars, job, healthcare, all the goodies. I’m no longer interested in that nightmare, Tom. Whatever money comes I turn it into supplies and equipment for my friends out there. Whatever media comes I use to create respect and dignity for my friends out there.

I am endlessly suspicious, perhaps, but it may be that Farris is telling me what I want to hear. Anyone perusing my blogsites could learn that I'm Buddhist and particularly suseptible to the appeal that Farris makes. Yet, I'm not sure what more I could get from him to abate my suspicions.

It would help if his past [based on the bio he links to], including his very recent past, didn't tell us he is a driven corporate ladder-climber who is not well educated.

The house Farris is losing in Grass Valley is a very, very big one. [See viddy, above.] How recently did Farris see the light? If Farris is truly speaking, now, from a fount of compassion, surely he should understand my skepticism and doubt, and may understand why he might not have the right resume to be trusted as a hero to suddenly dive in and greatly help the Sacramento Homeless.

UPDATE 1:30pm 3/10: Farris emailed me, citing his organization's Articles of Incorporation, found at iCare's webspace. The date of incorporation is January 12, 2009.

His email was not friendly. He seems to assume, from text in this blogpost, that I was claiming or endorsing the idea that he was trashing the encampment. Quite the contrary; I hope readers can see that I was, if anything, exposing as nonesense what Fernandez and Jennings were saying.

Farris concluded his email to me with these words: "This is the last time I will explain what we are doing and the last time I will 'defend' our actions. If your [blog readers] want to know the reality of what we are doing have them ask all the people out there who I have been respecting and caring for in the last two months. Hearsay is cheap. Before you form an opinion, give the truth a chance to sink in . . . we’ll all be better for it."

UPDATE 1:40pm 3/10: In a follow-up email, Farris writes, in part, "Plus did you know that Sister Libby personally called me last Thursday about the allegations against my org and told me it was a miscommunication and that she did not mean to include iCare America in the groups that went out and DID cause problems?" He, then, included text, for no apparent reason, from an email he received from Sister Libby which was wholly this, sans salutation and closing: "Keep up the good work! We are planning a SAFE GROUND Rally on 4/21/09 at 2 pm. I am making a flyer this week!"

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