‘Nobody Had Anywhere for Us to Go’: Mom of 1-Year-Old Found Dead on Bus Bench In Los Angeles Says She Begged Officials for Housing Three Days Before
A California mother who became part of Los Angeles’ unsheltered population is mourning the loss of her 1-year-old daughter, who passed away last month while the family of three was living under an overpass near Los Angeles International Airport.
The mother tells reporters the child would still be alive if the city had more places for her and her two small children to sleep at night.
The infant, identified as Yayra Rutherford, along with her mother, Amantha Van Cleave, and the baby’s brother, had been residing on the streets of Westchester for eight months.
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New to the city and fleeing from a bad relationship, Van Cleave and her children first lived in their car. The mother cared for the little girl and her 2-year-old brother, Judah, by driving for Uber. When she could afford to rent a room in a hotel, they would have housing.
Over the past month, they transitioned to camping out at LAX. The family also spent time at a bus stop near the airport—the very location where Yayra eventually was found dead.
The mom said she is trained as a pharmacy technician and had hoped to continue in that field in Los Angeles, but because she had no stable housing, she could not secure employment.
“I used to be a pharmacy tech. I have a degree. I’ve never been on drugs. I take being a mother very seriously, and I know there are things being said about me that are not true. I made sure they (her kids) ate three times a day. Some days I didn’t eat. I made sure they ate, and they were clean,” Van Cleave told local station Fox11.
Los Angeles Fire Department spokesperson Brian Humphrey reported receiving the call and responding at 9:37 a.m. on Dec. 20 to the area near Sepulveda and Century Boulevards.
The caller described trying to perform CPR on young Yayra until the LAFD arrived and took over. However, upon their arrival, firefighters pronounced the child deceased.
KTLA reports that a Los Angeles Police Department detective said that the little girl died due to cardiac arrest. However, the medical examiner has not issued a finding on the cause of death.
Yayra’s mother says that the baby may have died from the cold due to their inability to secure shelter or an unknown medical condition.
“It’s possible that her father may have had some type of heart condition, and I wasn’t told about it, and it’s very possible that she did freeze to death,” Van Cleave said to the Fox affiliate.
The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner is looking into the official cause of death.
Her mother said that she had tried to be admitted to a program or a shelter but was denied by several of the city’s homeless service programs.
“Housing and stuff fell through because the county building actually promised housing and whatnot, because they made it seem like people with children are a priority, but we ended up sleeping in my car when I had my car,” Van Cleave said to Fox11, adding, “When my car died, that’s when everything went downhill. We ended up outside, sleeping at LAX for a good two weeks, during all that raining, we were outside.”
L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, who governs the second-largest unhoused population in the nation, released a statement on Dec. 27, saying, “After we became aware of this family’s situation, the Mayor’s Office coordinated with PATH, who was working with LAHSA to extend the housing options for this family, and we will now work to identify a longer-term solution, including offering resources for them to reunite with family on the east coast,” according to KTLA 5.
She also called the incident “tragic” and said this incident is “exactly why we need to get people off the street immediately, especially those with children.”
Bass won her election based on her promise to house about a third of the city’s over 75,000 homeless people by the end of 2023, a population that has increased by 9 percent since 2021. However, she was not successful.
Van Cleave was provided lodging in a motel by PATH after the incident but was scheduled to check out on Dec. 28. She stayed in the room with her surviving toddler, her godmother, Stella Bethel, and Bethel’s son.
The baby’s family says the baby was just coming into her own personality, growing fast.
“She’d stand up in the bed, she’d tap me, and she’d go ‘Hi’ every morning at 4 a.m. I don’t have anybody to wake me up now,” Van Cleave said, according to NBC Los Angeles. Mom added that the little one was “teething the night before.”
The bereaved mother said, “She just went to sleep and didn’t wake back up.”
Van Cleave said before the tragedy; she called 211, a hotline that works to connect people in LA County with emergency shelters but could not get through.
“Three days before my baby passed away, I remember calling 211, LA Family Housing along with homeless shelters, Volunteers of America, PATH, and they would all say ‘You’re on the waitlist,’ or ‘We just got started on these applications,’ and ‘they (a different family) applied in 2017, and you applied this year, so it’s gonna be a 10-year wait,’” Van Cleave remembered, adding, she felt like they were giving her the “runaround.”
“I have a call log to this day of calling around, and nobody had answers for me or anywhere for us to go,” the mom said, rightfully believing she was not the only one.
The city controller said their audit revealed that during the previous winter, the 211 action number for unhoused people faced an overwhelming influx of over 160,000 calls for shelter. Only half of that number was being answered or returned by the agency.
“This incident should be a wake-up call for our community that we need crisis and long-term housing options for our vulnerable populations, such as families with children, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and other at-risk populations,” 211 said in a statement.
New York and Los Angeles hold approximately 40 percent of the country’s unhoused population.
Currently, an investigation is underway to determine the circumstances surrounding the toddler’s untimely death.