News

Victor Frost, well-known panhandler, has died

One of Palo Alto's most colorful characters, Victor Frost, has died, according to the San Mateo County Coroner. Frost, who was well-known for sitting on his milk crate across from Whole Foods Market on Homer Avenue and waiting for spare change, died of natural causes on Feb. 12, the coroner's office said. He was 68.

The portly panhandler, with his irascible nature, challenged Palo Alto's sit-lie ordinance on Constitutional grounds. He also ran for Palo Alto City Council during every election for a decade, except in 2012. To be eligible to run for city office, Frost needed a Palo Alto address, so he listed a telephone pole, No. 1139, at Page Mill Road and Park Boulevard. He was never elected.

Born Victor Allen Frost, he grew up in East Palo Alto and Seaside, California, near Monterey, he once said during a conversation at one of his other panhandling spots. During a City Council campaign, he told the Weekly that when he was 9 years old, he moved to Palo Alto after his parents died in a vehicle accident, and he grew up in area group homes.

He often said he used to work for Sun Microsystems, and in the early days of his panhandling he displayed a sign asking for donations to upgrade his laptop computer.

Frost often put out signs asking for 26 cents to help feed needy children at his apartment complex.

Eileen Richardson, executive director of the Downtown Streets Team, spent much time with Frost, during which he revealed his panhandling strategy when asking for 26 cents.

"I always cracked up. He said that people usually didn't have a penny, so they had to give him 50 cents or a quarter," she said.

Despite his reputation for surliness, Frost definitely had a nice side, she added, noting the time he surprised her on Valentine's Day.

"He gave me a brown paper bag, and inside there were chocolates and flowers and a beautiful card. It was really, really kind. He definitely had that side, without a doubt. I think it was because I was one of the only people who spent a lot of time getting to know him," she said.

"I think he was highly intelligent, without a doubt. I think he just wanted to be accepted by people. It's hard to do that when you can't hold a job," she said.

Richardson spent 1 1/2 years -- at least three times a week, and often more -- sitting with Frost at his spot and trying to figure out ways to get him into housing. She offered him a spot on the Downtown Streets Team and opportunities to write about homelessness for its website, and he was given a chance to apply to work at Whole Foods. He wanted a goat farm, so Richardson said maybe they could raise money for that.

But Frost didn't want any of it.

One day he said he was going to sue the city and Whole Foods, and that's when Richardson gave up, she said.

"It was definitely a learning experience for me. I can be stubborn. I thought if I worked hard enough, I could get him into housing," she said.

In 2007, he lived for a short time at the Opportunity Center's apartments, but the stay there was allegedly rocky. Eventually, he was able to move into a subsidized apartment in Redwood City. Frost died in that apartment.

Richardson said a that being housed there probably saved his life. If he had continued to live on the street, he would have died years ago.

Frost suffered from congestive heart failure, and he had schizophrenia, which he controlled by taking medication, he once revealed to the Palo Alto Weekly.

But despite his disabilities, he was an energetic fighter. Tall and large with long, flowing yellowish-white hair and a bushy beard, he was an imposing figure who allegedly would argue with others who tried to utilize his panhandling spot.

But in many ways he was also a highly creative thinker. He argued in court with the help of his defense attorney that the city's sit-lie ordinance violated his First Amendment rights and the state's equal-protection clause because it was applied unevenly and against a particular class of people. The city was enforcing the law in a discriminatory manner when it allowed, without proper permits, restaurants' outside seating to encroach on sidewalks, he said during hearings on a misdemeanor charge for chronically violating the city's sit-lie law. He incurred 11 citations between 2008 and 2010.

That fight went on for three years.

Then-Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Lucy Koh agreed to hear arguments on his assertions prior to his trial, and she even raised concerns about aspects of his discrimination claim. But Frost eventually lost his cases. He was fined $50 for a single violation in 2011 -- but not before a jury deadlocked during a previous trial in 2010.

Frost was disappointed that he didn't have a clear victory.

"I can't have the victory barbecue that I wanted," he said at the time.

When he wasn't panhandling, Frost would occasionally disappear to the Sierra foothills, where he said he had a gold claim. But if it turned any profit, it did not show in Frost's life. He always returned to Palo Alto, and he continued to pursue his goal of suing the city so he could retire from panhandling.

"I want my goat ranch in northern California, 5 acres, a log cabin -- and a nice wife," Frost said when he started his fight in 2007.

He never struck the Mother Lode. Still, he never gave up. In the weeks before he died, Frost was still on his milk crate -- this time, at one of his alternative spots in the California Avenue business district. In addition to Whole Foods, he sometimes set up shop in front of Village Stationers on California Avenue or near the Cambridge Avenue parking lot of Mollie Stone's market. It was at the latter site that he last discussed his belief that he would ultimately prevail on his First Amendment claim. He said then that he would soon be filing additional papers in federal court challenging the sit-lie ordinance.

Richardson said that he was seen less often in recent months, and his death made her sad.

"I'm hoping these last years were happy for him," she said.

She did not know if there would be a memorial service for Frost.

Comments

18 people like this
Posted by CXR
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 18, 2016 at 1:58 am

[Portion removed.] But may he, and Whole Foods, rest in peace.


11 people like this
Posted by Gordon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2016 at 2:07 am

[Post removed.]


30 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2016 at 5:36 am

For the 31 years I lived in PA, I came across Victor many times and like your mother said, " if you can't say anything nice, don't say it". I'll leave at that.


35 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2016 at 7:03 am

Life and a community needs some colorful characters and Victor was one of them. RIP.


20 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 18, 2016 at 9:52 am

Its seems that Victor was never able to overcome his mental illness. Schizophrenia is a lifelong difficult mental condition which requires non-stop medication and services. Victor was not able to maintain that in his life. RIP


11 people like this
Posted by Melissa Michelson
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 18, 2016 at 10:25 am

I will miss seeing Victor out on his milk crate and in the Weekly as a council candidate. He always brought a smile to my face for his 26cent ask and his positive attitude, and I was a fan of his efforts to fight back against the sit-lie ordinance.


13 people like this
Posted by wmconlon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2016 at 10:29 am

wmconlon is a registered user.

Rest in Peace, Victor Frost.


5 people like this
Posted by blatt
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 18, 2016 at 10:36 am

These guys add "p-zazz" to the area--like the guy who stands in the median on El Camino at the Alma left-turn lane.


7 people like this
Posted by moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2016 at 11:10 am

Well, he was definitely right about wanting a goat farm.


21 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 18, 2016 at 11:18 am

[Post removed.]


34 people like this
Posted by Creole54
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2016 at 11:21 am

Personally, I never seen or met Mr.Victor Frost and I wish we would have. Giving up 26¢ would have been a honor because despite what people thought of him, his purpose in life was meaningful and fighting in courts was his privilege as an American. Yes, he may have had Mental issues so do a lot of people, whom had tragedy in their lives at an early age, he lost his parents due to vehicle accident and was shifted around all his life. But indeed he had a heart, Ms. Richardson received candy and card for Valentine's Day despite it was in a brown bag at one time. There's so much stamina regarding the homeless, drug addicts and uneducated. Before you start criticizing others check your own backyard. Why or what put some of your family members out there or stopped talking to you? Could it be they are panhandling in another city or state in front of a store? Before you reply, think real hard because those children you raised may one day be like Mr. Victor Frost. Rich or poor, shack or mansion, WE ARE ALL HUMANS that someday will die.


32 people like this
Posted by Patricia
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 18, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Let the poor soul rest in peace😇 Hateful comments reflect on who you are, not him!


4 people like this
Posted by Make America Coarse Again
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 18, 2016 at 2:03 pm

[Post removed.]


24 people like this
Posted by CoachFromAnotherTown
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 18, 2016 at 3:51 pm

CoachFromAnotherTown is a registered user.

I can't help but ask: Are those of you who wrote hateful posts and had them removed, are you even more prouder of yourselves now - since you knew it would be removed. People like Victor are in every city on our planet. Perhaps those who would say that is not true, have not lived a little bit like Victor did.


15 people like this
Posted by helene
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2016 at 5:13 pm

helene is a registered user.

There but by fortune go you or I. RIP Victor


8 people like this
Posted by Timekeeper
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2016 at 9:31 am

Timekeeper is a registered user.

For those of you who despised Victor for panhandling, here are a few thoughts:

Victor Frost's panhandling was far less damaging to our community than that of many so-called upstanding members of our society. Our area is currently undergoing unprecedented housing challenges that are pushing many hard-working people, including teachers and others, out of housing and into homelessness. A lot of that is based on someone's greed. Exorbitant rents that are suddenly doubled and tripled have no link to the reality of the middle-class paycheck and should be considered unconscionable. But that's free enterprise, right?

Victor's was only a 26-cent enterprise, hardly a blip on the social-impact screen. We fail to revile the greater kind of harm being done to our community because it is less smelly and doesn't sit on a milk crate on the sidewalk (well, maybe some of its evicted victims do) but, like Victor's, is a choice being made by individuals.


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