San Jose

Marilyn Hartman Case: Homeless Advocates Hope Stowaway Situation Brings Attention to Mental Health Issues

Reps from Bay Area public assistance agencies said it might help to view the 62-year-old’s situation differently, especially if she is dealing with mental illness and homelessness

The journey of accused stowaway Marilyn Hartman is bringing attention to other issues that go beyond airport security.

Public assistance agencies in San Jose, where Hartman made news earlier this week by boarding a Southwest Airlines flight to Los Angeles, say they hope attention to her homelessness and mental illness spark greater awareness and compassion.

Hartman, 62, who along with her court-appointed attorney blame her being homeless and her mental state for her recent headline-making, has been jailed twice since sneaking onto Flight 3785 at San Jose International Airport.

Candace Ventra does not know Hartman, but she said she can sympathize. She is recovering from a breathing disorder at Home First, the South Bay's largest homeless agency.

The 63-year-old said she gets much-needed help for diagnosed mental health disorders. Ventra said, if Hartman is dealing with mental illness and homelessness, it's quite a burden, especially for people of their generation.

"You didn't speak about 'mental illness.’ You were 'crazy' if you saw a psychiatrist or you admitted to anything,” Ventra said. “You were a 'crazy person’”

Home First Director Jenny Niklaus didn’t want to comment directly about Hartman, but said mental illness is a big factor in homelessness and requires “compassion.”

"That illness takes people away from their families, from their jobs, people that they love,” Niklaus said.

Destination Home Executive Director Jennifer Loving agrees.

“[Hartman is] being categorized as a 'stowaway' or someone who is habitually trying to get on airplanes,” Loving said, “but obviously that speaks to 'she's struggling with something else.'"

"Instead of using that as the model – arresting them and letting her go – it's about 'intervening' with mental health support and seeing what can be done,” Loving said.

Ventra said she hopes what happened with her life can happen in Hartman’s. "If you don't have people who are, you know, concerned and compassionate, then we just get worse,” Ventra said.

All the people NBC Bay Area spoke with acknowledged the possibility Hartman might not be telling the truth, but said if you look at what has happened so far, a different approach could be helpful.

Hartman is still in police custody in Los Angeles. She had a tough time staying away from airports. She has had at least seven encounters with police at San Francisco International Airport.

According to the San Mateo County district attorney, she was arrested four times at SFO – that’s before she made it onto that Southwest flight in San Jose on Monday.

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