PALO ALTO – “They laughed at me as homeless novelty candidate. They stereotyped me as a homeless, Budweiser-drinking, fall-out on the bench type of homeless person. Well, that’s changed: I have become a vicious politician and I found the milkcrate to be my political pedestal.”
Vicious politician he is, Victor Frost who has run for City Council six times, is a veteran candidate, though he has always remained in the backtail of the races. He has many grudges and has fought off anyone that has gotten in his way. Controversy is his weapon of choice.
At the Oct. 7 Candidates’ Forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, Frost announced he would increase the city’s $5.8 million budget deficit.
He is suing the city for $1.5 million for violating his freedom of expression after being arrested 11 times for violating the sit-lie ordinance.
“Its a cruel and unusual punishment to arrest a homeless man sitting on a milkcrate, begging for food on public domain. They made a mistake, so soon they’re gonna have to pay,” he says.
Passed in March 1997 at a 7-2 vote, the ordinance bans sitting or lying on University Avenue sidewalks between High and Cowper streets from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and sitting on any object that is not a fixed piece of furniture – like a milkcrate.
Among his other crusades is the redevelopment of the Opportunity Center, a drop-in and subsidized housing complex for low-income individuals, from which, he says, he was sent packing – “even if it means lawsuits.”
In all this he is alone. No other candidate has taken on homeless issues in the campaign for the Nov. 3 elections. According to Mark Weiss, 45, a concert promoter who is running on for City Council on an “arts platform,” no issue related to the homeless has been discussed among candidates either.
Frost may be obstinate and controversial. But homeless, he’s not. Not anymore, anyway – and this may be the most controversial issue of all.
Frost rents a subsidized apartment in Peninsula Inn, Redwood City, about 7 miles away from Palo Alto. It was offered to him by Innvision, a shelter and housing provider after he was “kicked out of the Opportunity Center,” he says. The Opportunity Center, also run by Innvision, declined to comment on Frost’s case.
Frost uses the apartment as storage and a place to shower, and sleeps in his 1988 Honda Accord, the headquarters of his “mobile campaign.”
He does not sleep in his apartment because, if he did, he would be a resident of Redwood City and not be eligible to run for office in Palo Alto. He says he has not encountered any difficulties with Palo Alto authorities on that matter – although he did get some bad press.
Subsidized housing in the Peninsula is scarce. Seventy percent of the homeless in the County – little more than 3,400 people – do not have shelter, according to the 2009 Santa Clara County Homeless Census and Survey.
In Palo Alto, for instance, the 88 appartments at the Opportunity Center are the only subsidized housing available. Jill Dawson, 28, a caseworker at the Center says the waiting time for an applicant in the winter is, on average, one to two months.
When local newspapers such as the Palo Alto Online and the Daily News ran the story that Frost was, technically, not really homeless, many residents were disgruntled. One comment in the Town Square Forum, a blog in the local newspaper Palo Alto Online read,
“Such a system – such an abuser. I still don’t get why people give him money.”
When asked whether he thought the announcement that he is suing the city, at the Candidates Forum would fare well with voters, he replied,
“The voters are gonna be knowing that I’m sticking out for our Constitutional Rights. Adding to the deficit: Yes, they should have left me alone. Its gonna be a wake-up call: Respect and uphold the Constitutional Rights of all people of Palo Alto, even if they’re homeless. No more homeless harassment: it costs you money, lots of money.”
Voters, once again, beg to differ, “I don’t think he should be allowed to run!” blurts out Matt Winfrey, 45, a Palo Alto resident.
Bart Anderson, 61, says he “makes things interesting,” but would never vote for him nonetheless.
Candidate Mark Weiss says he’s “concerned about him as a fellow citizen. I hope he’s O.K. but he’s not qualified to serve, I don’t think.”
Next to his sign on California Avenue, Frost has proudly stacked some Palo Alto Weeklys – a newspaper, he admits, does not portray him in much of a favorable light. But it’s publicity anyhow, and that, he says, is what will help him win: “All the PR! Shit! All the things I’ve been doing: Fighting for the Constitutional Rights, fighting the City Council and the Police Department… now I have public sympathy and public interest.”
Is he your average attention seeker or are his concerns genuine? Who are his friends, who are his enemies? Who are his voters?
Sunday morning Oct. 11 on California Avenue, the day of the weekly Palo Alto Farmer’s Market, a few of the candidates mingle, hold up their signs, bring their family along. Crowds equal big-time exposure.
Frost is sitting a half a block away, on a milkcrate in front of the stationary store on the corner of California and Birch, like he always does on Sunday mornings – or on Tuesdays, or on Wednesdays. This is no field trip for him.
He adjusts his knock-off Ray Ban sunglasses with neon blue temples, wiggles slightly on his milkcrate, and softens his face for a photograph. He wants a full body picture, showing a cardboard sign with a tin cup attached to one corner: “FRESH ORGANIC FOOD IS REALY NEEDED FOR US POOR PEOPLE OR 26¢ THANK YOU…”
“My campaign is not about money, about who’s endorsing who.” He says.
“It’s about the people. And after I’m elected I’m still gonna be connected to the people. People will know where I’ll be and they can come and yell at me, argue with me – or become friends.”