Angie had told her boyfriend Ted that she felt tired, wanted to take a nap, and asked him to lay down with her. After a while, Ted woke up and then tried to wake Angie up.
But Angie wouldn’t wake up. And it turned out that Angie couldn’t wake up despite the efforts of Ted and friends to resuscitate her.
Evangelina Quezada — “Angie” — died Friday, March 26, on the Canoga Park streets where she lived. The 25-year-old mother of two was homeless and was staying in the “yurts,” a setup of large, foam panel-insulated tents clustered along Bassett Street near the Los Angeles riverbed.
When contacted by the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, the county coroner’s office said that a cause of death had not been determined and that an autopsy was pending.
According to county public health officials, 1,383 people experiencing homeless died in 2020. That figure represents a 104% increase from the 630 people who died in 2014 while experiencing homelessness.
But whenever a young person dies from no apparent violent trauma or known pre-existing medical condition, it can raise a lot of questions for which there are usually no quick, obvious answers.
And it can magnify how hard it can be to identify illnesses, or offer medical or mental health care to those living on the streets.
Jeannie Umanzor is a family nurse practitioner and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner for the Northeast Valley Health Corporation. She and her medical street team have administered care to people in homeless encampments throughout the Valley for the past four years.
“I do try to get them into clinics at least one time so we can do lab work and get tests done that I can’t do physically in the field,” Umanzor said.
She said she has seen her share of young, homeless people dying on the streets.
“[Homeless] people are so vulnerable, so at risk in battling mental health, substance abuse, and everything else in their environment,” Umanzor said.
Death at the Yurts
Pastor Kathy Huck is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit About My Father’s Business Outreach Ministry in the San Fernando Valley. In a joint effort with L.A. Launchpad and The Church of Space, she was able to get seven “yurts” (which cost about $250 each and must be assembled) placed in the Canoga Park location where Quezada died.
Huck had known Quezada for a year. She said Ted frantically called her that Friday night when Quezada did not wake up. When the pastor arrived, she said members of the victim’s family — whom she had not met before — were on the scene as well as police and the coroner’s van.
Angie’s body was covered with a pink sheet.
“I asked Ted what happened,” Huck said. “He was just crying. He said, ‘Pastor she was okay; she said, ‘I’m just tired, I want to lay down and take a nap.’ She asked me to come in and take a nap with her. All of a sudden she wasn’t breathing.’”
Huck said Ted told her they got Quezada out of the tent and tried to resuscitate her for a half hour. They had also called 9-1-1; “but [the woman] never regained consciousness.”
Huck posted her grief and fury on Facebook.
“The toughest part of my calling is to see people die on the streets unhoused. NO ONE SHOULD DIE HOMELESS… NO ONE! The people that we serve become our friends and before long, we call them our FAMILY of friends!” Huck raged.
“The hardest call I’ve ever gotten from encampment residents came last night begging me to come to Canoga Park ASAP… Angie had died on the sidewalk on Bassett St outside of her yurt. Angie was 24 (sic) years old. To me just a child. She called me her other-mother… she was more than my friend.”
Trying to Turn Her Life Around
When speaking about Quezada’s death a couple days after the Facebook post, Huck said one reason it hit her so hard was an understanding that the young woman was poised to try again to turn her life around.
“She had been working with her caseworkers; I think she was going to move into the Willows (a 75-bed temporary shelter in Canoga Park that was converted from a former county mental health building),” Huck said, adding that Quezada’s father had custody of her children.
But Huck also said Quezada had been in transitional housing before, yet returned to the streets and the people she knew from there.
“I’ve seen Angie go into transitional housing when she became pregnant,” the pastor said. “I’d go out and do outreach somewhere, and she would be there. I was like, ‘what are you doing here, don’t you have a place?’ She’d say, Yeah, but I missed everybody.’ Because for how many years she had been out there, [the other street people] had become her family. This is her social life.
“She was smart, she was getting herself together and off the street. But once you’ve been out there so long, the streets themselves become an addiction. [The public] doesn’t think about those things. [The homeless think] ‘When I was invisible to the general public, these [other homeless] people acknowledged me and validated that I was valuable.’ Of course you’re gonna go back.”