Longtime Palo Alto homeless woman dies at age 73

'Bunny' Good died April 24, leaving a legacy of tenacity and sadness for those who tried to help

She wore a large 1940s wig -- Loretta Young-style -- and kept her face down. She took shelter under a blue plastic tarp with space for her two shopping carts. And when Valerie "Bunny" Good died on April 24, people who worked with her for decades grieved.

Good, 73, died of heart complications at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center after living on Palo Alto's streets for 34 years, said Heiri Schupisser, homeless outreach specialist at the nonprofit Momentum for Mental Health in Palo Alto. On Monday afternoon, people attended a memorial service in her honor at All Saints Episcopal Church in Palo Alto.

Good was well known in Palo Alto, where she lived within a three-block area around University Avenue. She lived behind the old Apple store on the corner of University Avenue and Waverley Street and behind the 7-Eleven on Lytton Avenue, where a cinder block wall had provided her with privacy and protection from the wind. Most recently, she took up residence across from the University Avenue Starbucks, Schupisser said.

"I was surprised that she made it through the winter," Schupisser said.

He and others had tried for years to find appropriate housing for Good, but she was adamant there was only one place she wanted to live: senior housing community Lytton Gardens.

"She wanted to stay in Palo Alto. It was her home," Schupisser said.

Palo Alto police Chief Dennis Burns even wrote a letter to Lytton Gardens on her behalf, attesting that she was not a troublemaker. She didn't drink or use drugs, but she did suffer from depression, Schupisser said.

But she languished on a waiting list. Schupisser helped her receive Social Security benefits and straightened out a bank error that left her without payments for 3.5 years.

Good had been unhoused since December 1980. Toward the end of her life, she was finally willing to take other accommodations. She lived life the way she wanted to, and she wasn't willing to compromise, Schupisser said. That determination perhaps helped her to survive decades beyond the life expectancy for a homeless person, which is just seven years, he said.

Dr. Joel Wolfberg, a retired therapist who volunteers with Momentum for Mental Health in Palo Alto, worked to help Good. He visited her in the hospital before she died, and he remembers her fondly. In Wolfberg's opinion, she was also the victim of social and political indifference, he said last week.

Good's situation, living surrounded by Silicon Valley's riches, "is unconscionable to me," he said. "She didn't deserve to be raped in downtown Palo Alto or beaten up and made blind in one eye."

If Good seemed a shadowy figure to most passersby, she was to many "a remarkable woman," Schupisser said. She had a degree in mathematics from the University of Chicago; worked at Stanford Linear Accelerator (now SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory) in the 1960s and at NASA Ames Research Center. When she left her job to take care of her grandmother, NASA wouldn't guarantee her a position when she returned. There was a divorce from her physicist husband and a mental breakdown, Wolfberg said.

But some people did look out for her. Palo Alto police officers often brought Good coffee in the morning, and Apple Store employees let her use the computers despite her poor hygiene, Schupisser said.

Her death is at least the second of an elderly homeless woman on Palo Alto's streets in five months. Gloria Bush, 72, who was also homeless due to severe mental illness, died of complications from hypothermia in December.


Posted by Sheri, a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2014 at 1:55 pm

RIP, Bunny.

Posted by Greenacres, a resident of Green Acres
on May 14, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Greenacres is a registered user.

We think we are so advanced, and yet our health care system is still this archaic when it comes to mental illness.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 14, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

This is one more sad case of neglect by Palo Alto officials. Homelessness needs to be criminalized. Until that happens the adults, who should be in charge, are handcuffed by the 'civil liberties' lobby of the mentally disturbed and those who just choose a lifestyle.

Until criminalization is embraced by the liberals in PA, these sad cases will continue.

Posted by Bru, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 14, 2014 at 9:36 pm

Bru is a registered user.

A thoughtful story, and very sad end to a life.

But Craig Laughton's comment is really out of place and I am sorry to see it standing here before logging in was required, the last one, as if to taunt anyone who disagrees with it. [Portion removed.]

The one question I have on this story. Is this the old woman who had the huge clump of matted hair that walked on University? I had no idea she was a mathematician and worked at SLAC.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 15, 2014 at 10:01 am

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

This is a very moving story. I don't know if I ever encountered this woman. I think that it is wonderful that people in Palo Alto took some time to show her that they cared.

My husband told me a story about how (when my husband was very young) his dad would give money to the homeless. One day when his dad was giving some money to a homeless man, he asked, "Don't you think that they'll just use the money for alcohol?" His dad replied, "It doesn't matter. The point is that I want them to know that someone still cares." A half-hour later, they saw the homeless man leaving a store with some food.

I can't understand what would happen to a person to make them live in such a way. However, I think that it is always a good thing to show them that people care and treat them like good and viable human beings. Thank you, PAPD and Apple Store employees for being kind to her.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 15, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

How can this be neglect, Craig, when this woman was cared for by many people? She did things on her terms, with others helping how and when they could - and as she allowed.

I was just thinking the other day of all of those with obvious mental health issues who have Stanford affiliations and impressive credentials. Many of them stay in the area, so of course they'll be living cheek by jowl with wealth and success.

Condolences to all who cared for her, and may she rest in peace.

Posted by Carla, a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Carla is a registered user.

This person was a fixture on University Ave, and she was adamant about staying on the streets. On the surface, it does seem like a shameful situation for such a person to live among many wealthy people. However, she had mental issues and did not want help; and there are a number of these people out there. What is a shame is that their families cannot take care of them when these problems begin, or that the governments will not pick up where there is not other solution.

Mental illness is the reason 1/3 of the homeless people are homeless. Drug addiction is another 1/3. And the rest are transitional.

Posted by Carla, a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Carla is a registered user.

In summary: Let's start by funding governmental institutions to deal with mental illness and drug addiction, and we'll have targeted the core of the problem. Individuals, including rich ones, cannot by themselves solve these problems. These are societal problems, not just Palo Alto problems. It is about time these commenters top trying to give wealthy individuals or Palo Alto a guilt trip.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 15, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by steveb, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 15, 2014 at 1:13 pm

steveb is a registered user.

Rest in peace Bunny.

Posted by PA mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 15, 2014 at 1:44 pm

PA mom is a registered user.

I knew Bunny back in the eighties when I rented a room in a house on Byron St. and she paid us $20 a month to store a bunch of stuff in our house. We called it "Bunny money" and used it to buy basic household items like toilet paper and soap. She asked if she could pay us more to live in a tent in our back yard too, but I was already trying to get out of a codependent situation with another homeless friend of mine and said no. I liked her okay but could tell she was mentally ill. Although she was oriented to time, place and person she did seem depressed, and desperate. I felt helpless and bad for her. She looked and seemed way younger than she was.

I so disagree with criminalizing the homeless. They, too want to live life on their terms and make their own choices, free of being locked up or made to follow strict rules as if they are children. As long as they are not harmful to anyone, live and let live.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 15, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on May 15, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.

Well said, PA mom. A terribly sad story. May Bunny rest in peace. And thanks to those who helped her.

There is a tall, long-haired, homeless man on University Ave. usually walking, or sitting on a bench. I don't know his story (I give him cash and see him buying food), but I always say hello and ask how he's doing. So many sad situations like this here, and throughout the country.

Posted by PA mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 15, 2014 at 6:51 pm

PA mom is a registered user.

Nora Charles,

Is his hair grayish white, long, thick and curly? His name is Santa; I know because I bought him lunch once. He's a nice man

Posted by ChrisC, a resident of College Terrace
on May 15, 2014 at 8:20 pm

ChrisC is a registered user.

An amazing person. Very sad, but some good people took time to know her. Gives me faith in humanity. Another subject: might we frequent online readers make a pact to just ignore Craig's comments? There's no point in trying to rebut. I get depressed even reading one of them, but responding just brings more.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 15, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by rick, a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2014 at 9:06 pm

rick is a registered user.

Re Santa -- thick and curly or thick and wavy or thick and matted? Not sure who you are describing but I know by sight a dozen or more of the University Avenue regulars. Would be interesting to know something more about them all, but I'm reluctant to engage them directly. (On meaner streets than Palo Alto the last thing you want is a new "friend" chasing you around.) Maybe I'll talk to one our PAPD officers sometime and get more of the scoop. There are several names that show up repeatedly in the police blotter for various infractions that I imagine are unavoidable for anyone homeless or mentally not all there. I doubt we'd be permitted to discuss individual cases here on-line.

Posted by Honor, a resident of another community
on May 16, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Honor is a registered user.

RIP Bunny!!
The vagaries of mental illness are vast and complex. In situations such as Bunny's, the best that can be done is a show of compassion.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 16, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Latendresse, a resident of Menlo Park
on May 16, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Latendresse is a registered user.

It is sad to read that she died. I saw her many times downtown Palo Alto. She had her blue tarp set in the parking lot near the old Apple store for a while and in the entrance of an unoccupied (prime location) store on University for some other time. I saw her once using a computer in the old Apple store on University (nice to see that people working at Apple let her use the computer) and I really wondered what interested her. Now through this article I learn that she was a mathematician and used to work at SLAC! I never had any eye contact with her as she was keeping her head down all the time. RIP Bunny.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on May 16, 2014 at 3:44 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

>In situations such as Bunny's, the best that can be done is a show of compassion.

What a cruel and absurd statement! She didn't deserve her fate, she needed to have rational adults command her fate. When will humanitarian adults start to demand criminalization, as a humane solution?

Having come this far, on this thread, I think those who oppose criminalization (and thus a humane solution), should use their real names, like I do. Why not...if you claim to be holding the high ground?

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