From a rough beginning to recovery

Homeless woman finds help among nonprofit communities, government, economic development, and even volunteers
By: Carol Chamberlain
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Laurie Knight Teel may sound a bit vague when recalling the timeline of her life. There are “blanks,” and her telling of her difficult life is more a meandering of memories and less a chronological recap. She gets sidetracked by painful recollections of evictions, legal entanglements, situations where options were limited and all those times when Teel says she “gave up.”

A little confusion is understandable for a 55-year-old victim of abuse, homelessness and chronic drug use who tangled with child protective services and, as she readily admits, “suffered the consequences of bad choices.”

But just ask Teel about her “angels,” the cadre of professionals who first met her at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital and saw her through to a healthy, drug-free life that includes permanent housing, and she knows all their names.

“I call them my dream team,” she said of her circle of support. “I asked for help and they responded.”

After yet another eviction in December of last year, Teel’s living accommodations went from bad to worse. She says in retrospect that she thanks God she got sick. Her condition triggered a visit to the emergency department at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital.

“I told them I smoked meth that day,” she said.

Teel said that doctors discovered she had pneumonia, the flu and had recently suffered a heart attack. But for her, the reprieve from her spiraling life presented by a week or so in the hospital’s intensive care unit offset the dire news of her health. She took the time to access the damage and contemplate the rest of her life.

Her first contact at Sutter Auburn Faith was Susan Plucknett, a licensed clinical social worker Laurie warmly calls “Suzie.” Plucknett referred Teel to Emergency Department Navigator Vicki Miller-Routh, a T3 (triage, transport and treatment) case manager with Wellspace Health. Her job is to help people who need it map a life plan.

“When Vicki walked in, it took my breath away. It was a God thing. I just held on to her. She felt the same, I could tell,” Teel said.

After building the relationship with Teel and getting a sense of her willingness to change her life, Miller-Routh thought Teel would be a candidate for The Gathering Inn’s Interim Care Program in Auburn. She contacted Ron Arneson, the program director there.

The Gathering Inn provides homeless patients a clean, safe place to continue their recovery for up to six weeks once they are discharged from the hospital. Arneson told Teel they had a place for her. He explained that the care program would give Teel a chance to heal, rest and have time to find housing.

“I had 30 days, and then 30 days more. I was so blessed to have another month, and felt so lucky. I was preparing to be kicked to the curb,” Teel said, her voice trembling with emotion.

With housing not an issue for at least a little while, Teel went to work on herself and stayed on track. She said she found meetings to go to and doesn’t do drugs.

“Sutter, Wellspace, Ron and Whole Person Care was helping me. It’s a good network and I used them all. They answer my calls,” Teel said.

Teel, who has a permanent home through Mutual Housing in North Highlands and is drug free, looks back to the goals she set for herself when she was in the hospital and her “family” went to work to save her life. She has connected with her two children (now in their 20s) and a brother who wouldn’t be around her while she was using.

Surrounding herself with clean sober people who help her stay grounded is a pledge she takes each day, and even says it out loud to JoJo, her fluffy little rescue dog that her apartment manager gave her as a welcome gift.

“I want friends like the ‘Golden Girls’ on the TV show because they care and won’t beat on you,” Teel said. “I met a lady with a similar story and she seems very strong in her recovery. I’m excited and having a good time.”