Human beings excel at being their own worst enemy. They are able to contribute to their troubles more completely than any natural disaster, financial crisis or family dysfunction ever could. And yet not everyone follows this dictum.

Take, for example, the case of Charlie, who was born and baptized in Hayward. In his late 60s, this slightly built man with a shuffling gate developed undiagnosed cognitive issues that led to an inability to care for himself, including paying his few bills.

When his electricity was cut off, he used candles instead. Unfortunately, his loose fitting pajamas caught fire one night and caused severe burns.

While automatic bill pay was set up for Charlie, his cognitive status was not investigated.

About six months later, Charlie began to complain about the scars on his body, mystified about their origin and very distraught.

Unable to cook for himself, he frequented an outdoor meal program and when he shared his distress with other participants, they took him to a homeless services program. Program staff found Charlie to be emaciated and his apartment almost uninhabitable.

After six months of advocacy with health care and service providers, Charlie was finally diagnosed with dementia and placed in a care facility.

Lily is just beginning her 38th year in Hayward and is thorough and responsible in her work. She hasn't been able to maintain a steady job, however, due to her severe learning disability, which makes communication difficult. Her deep desire is to go to college and work a good, steady job.


Advertisement

While Lily's disability was identified early in life, her teenage mother inadvertently disqualified Lily from services that would have given her the educational and vocational tools necessary for her to succeed. Instead, she has been homeless for nearly 20 years.

Despite living in a county with systems dedicated to placing people in housing, no housing programs have accepted Lily. She has not been able to qualify for any vocational programs because she is homeless.

Kathy is a familiar face in Hayward, appealing to anyone who will listen for help. At first glance, she appears to be "assistant resistant" -- not following through on offers to improve her situation. However, talk with her for a little longer and really see her behavior and you notice the disorganized thinking indicative of her severe mental illness.

Unfortunately for Kathy, her ability to panhandle a doughnut or cup of coffee and to sit in a place where people let her rest for a while means that she's not perceived as disabled enough to be hospitalized. Clinical assessment is required for Kathy to access available housing.

People in multiple agencies state that they've known Kathy for years and that she hasn't been any healthier or more functional. They shake their heads and say, "I wish there was something we could do."

It is time we ask, when is enough simply enough? When can we acknowledge that someone's situation is unacceptable by any standard? When can we admit that just as everyone must be responsible for their own actions, we too have the responsibility and the power to act?

Sara Lamnin is program director of the Hayward Community Action Network South Hayward Parish.