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Elderly homeless woman reunited with children after a decade on the streets

An elderly homeless woman in Santa Barbara was reunited with her three children after disappearing more than a decade ago.

Kayannette Gabrielle went missing from her home in Valencia in 2006. Her son, Brett Hanlon reported her disappearance to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Her information was entered into a statewide database and detectives followed leads for years.

Around four years ago, the 68-year-old ended up in Santa Barbara and often slept outside the main library. She was known in the community as Mary Roberts.

During a stay at the Rescue Mission, Gabrielle befriended Jill Wallerstedt, who was the director of homeless guest services.

Wallerstedt said Gabrielle suffered from severe memory loss, possibly from a traumatic head injury and couldn’t remember her name or Social Security number. Gabrielle often talked about three children, but never mentioned that they belonged to her. Wallerstedt took Gabrielle to lunch every week and tried to help her piece together her past.

Gabrielle remained on the streets and was treated at Cottage Hospital on at least two occasions, once after falling off of the pier at Stearns Wharf. Hospital staff alerted local agencies about her vulnerable state.

Doctor’s Without Walls-Santa Barbara Street Medicine also provided care for Gabrielle on the streets.

The Colorado native was also known to Officer Keld Hove, who is part of the city’s Restorative Policing Program. The program works with chronically homeless to find them detox, housing or work programs. Hove said officers checked on Gabrielle often and made sure she was safe.

“When you live on the streets, you become isolated from the rest of the normal world that you used to belong to. She didn’t mean to leave it. She fell into this abyss,” said Hove. “And to have that human interaction, that human contact with people who don’t dismiss you because you haven’t brushed your teeth that morning or didn’t change your clothes for four days. That means a lot to these people and that’s what we do for them.”

Gabrielle was cited for sleeping in public and trespassing, but those tickets brought her to the attention of the Restorative Court Program, which also seeks to rehabilitate area homeless and get them off of the streets.

Mureen Brown is a restorative police court liason for the police department and works closely with Hove.

Gabrielle’s complex case was flagged again and the woman was routed through the restorative court system, and connected with a shelter and other services. Brown continued to work tirelessly to help Gabrielle recall her past and solve her identity.

“We work with a lot of vulnerable people out on the streets. Many of them have sad stories and sad situations. We know they all come from a mom, a dad, a brother,” Brown said. “They have somebody they were once tethered to.”

On March 4, 2016, Brown secured a bed for Gabrielle at the homeless shelter PATH Santa Barbara where she stayed and received services for a year.

Two weeks ago, Gabrielle told a Carmen, a case manager at PATH that she remembered her name and some personal information. Brown and Hove pulled up Gabrielle’s old drivers license on the computer and searched the missing person database.

“Sure enough, she showed up immediately,” Brown said. “In the six years I’ve been doing this, this is the highlight of my entire time working with the police department. “This is a story about an entire community keeping this woman safe, taking care of her, not giving up hope and at the end of it we have a miracle. It doesn’t happen that often.

On Tuesday, Gabrielle’s family got the call they’d been waiting for.

“Our detectives were able to reach out to family members who initially reported her missing and provided them with some really great news,” said Capt. Steven Katz of the Los Angles County Sheriff’s Department.

Within an hour, Gabrielle was talking to her son Brett on the phone. “Her voice was unmistakable,” he said.

On Saturday, Gabrielle reunited with Brett, her daughter Colette and her son Jared at a hotel in Santa Barbara.

The family is still putting all the pieces of the puzzle together and Gabrielle’s children said they are anxious to share a decade’s worth of stories with each other.

Hanlon said their family’s joy is owed to the community of Santa Barbara.

“This is a story about people seeing our mother compassionately and having hope that one day she would be identified and we would have this reunion to share with you,” Hanlon said.

Gabrielle, speaking in a soft voice, said she was afraid to stop hoping and was held together by the love she felt for her children and the support from police, advocates, non-profit workers, doctors and nurses.

“I thank all the incredible people that were my guardians, my providers, they did so much for me emotionally mentally, and physically,” Gabrielle said. “They lifted my heart and they always will and they gave me their hearts. I always felt safe with them and cared for.”

Gabrielle will likely live with her daughter Colette in Colorado, where she was born and raised.

She will be reunited with her 91-year-old father, who doesn’t yet know she has been found.

Gabrielle also can’t wait to meet her newest grandchildren.

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