NEWPORT NEWS, VA (WAVY) — This weekend something horrible happened in Newport News. Our system failed a homeless woman and her unborn baby.
On Sunday, a pregnant, homeless woman went into labor on the grass outside the Wawa on Jefferson Avenue in Newport News, Virginia. Her baby died.
It’s exactly what a group of good Samaritans wanted to prevent. For weeks, they tried to help the woman, but they say the system made that impossible.
It started when they saw a picture Kenneth Threat posted on Facebook.
“I thought it was a joke,” Arnesha Rutledge thought initially of the image which showed a very pregnant woman, barely clothed, lying on a bench.
Amanda Alston was also online when the picture went viral.
“I was following the story for like seven hours,” she said.
Alston, like Rutledge, couldn’t erase the picture in her head.
“And everybody was like she refuses help, she’s violent, don’t approach her,” Alston read on the comments posted below the photo.
Despite the warnings, the two strangers decided they had to find the destitute mom-to-be before it was too late.
“A pregnant woman laying on a bench on a 40-degree windy day, in a sports bra tells you something is mentally wrong,” Alston told WAVY.com.
The two women coordinated through private messages and made a plan to go offline and onto the streets. Rutledge recalled the moment they headed out, “Then a guy in-boxed me and said I just drove past her and she’s on the bench at Shoney’s so I said, ‘I’m on my way!’”
It was 3 a.m. when they found her on that same bench. They said she came quietly, maybe she was too cold or too tired to fight. Whatever the reason, she got into the car with them. They got her a hot meal and put her up in a motel.
“I was hurt; I was so hurt we all sat there and cried ’cause it was ridiculous; it don’t make any sense,” Rutledge told 10 On Your Side. “The system has failed her like when we talked she said ‘I’ve done what they asked me to do I’m still in my situation.’”
Due to privacy laws 10 On Your Side cannot confirm she is a client of social services, but on the day the picture went viral and on the night the women found her, the pregnant woman was in plain sight along a busy street just blocks from a police station and in front of a medical office. That really bothered Alston, “Nobody stopped to say ‘wait.’ Something is wrong here.”
Rutledge and Alston admit the woman refused medical help the night they took her in and when they asked the police to check on her, she refused to open her door. By law she can refuse help, but how is that law protecting her or her baby? 10 On Your Side askedSenator Creigh Deeds, “It’s heartbreaking. Our safety net is embarrassing and a lot of people slip through the cracks.”
Senator Deeds is working to fill those cracks. His own mentally ill son attacked the senator and took his own life in 2013. He is now the chairman of the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st Century. “What I’m working on is a way to make sure that the mentally ill receive a uniform standard of care,” he said.
Deeds hopes to have new legislation ready for the 2018 session of the General Assembly, but he and other lawmakers must walk the fine line between civil rights and safety.
It’s mind-boggling to Rutledge, “You’re going to call her crazy if something happens to the baby and you’re going to lock her up, but y’all didn’t do y’alls part.”
Rutledge and Alston are doing their part stepping in where the system didn’t, or couldn’t. They’re using social media to deliver social justice.
Social Services came and took the pregnant woman about a week ago but would not give the women any information about the mom-to-be. They learned that she had been released from the hospital several days later and began another desperate search to find her. Someone reached out to them when they saw her in labor on the lawn at a local Wawa.
They are now determined to make sure this never happens again.
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