Longtime Interfaith Community Shelter Director Joe Jordan-Berenis died unexpectedly Sunday, the organization’s director of finance and development Beverly Kellam said.
Kellam on Monday said the cause of death was an “apparent brain bleed.”
Jordan-Berenis, deeply respected by many in Santa Fe’s homeless community, operated the shelter — also called Pete’s Place — for about seven years.
Jordan-Berenis, 75, had retired in April and moved to Rhinebeck, N.Y., to be closer to his daughter, who was expecting her first child, Kellam said. He had agreed 10 weeks after departing to continue directing the shelter’s operations after the organization struggled to find his successor.
His death came as a shock, said Kellam, adding that Jordan-Berenis was one of her best friends and one of the “kindest and most compassionate” people she’d ever known.
“Joe’s passing was devastating news — for the shelter, for the community and for me, personally,” Interfaith Community Shelter board chairman and volunteer Len Rand wrote in an email Monday. “He will be sorely missed as a capable advocate for the homeless and as a good friend. Joe was one of the truly good human beings it has been my honor to know.”
Jordan-Berenis’ career serving individuals experiencing homelessness began at an agency that grew out of the Woodstock Festival in New York in 1969, according to an announcement the shelter released when he retired. He joined Family of Woodstock in 1980, serving as a counselor program director and, ultimately, the organization’s executive director.
He once said the Family of Woodstock was based on a philosophy of being nonjudgemental and nondirective, “meaning you don’t tell people what to do, you offer them choices, and they decide.” He brought that philosophy with him to the Interfaith shelter.
In a My View published in The New Mexican in February, Guy Gronquist wrote Jordan-Berenis remained calm but firm.
“His mantra remains to treat everyone with respect and to meet them where they are,” Gronquist wrote. “He is compassionate, fair and even-handed.”
Some of the dozen or so people waiting outside the gate for the shelter to open Monday knew Jordan-Berenis by name and remembered him as someone who truly listened to them.
“He was a very good human being,” said Jose Rodriguez, 34, who said he’s been getting assistance with food and shelter from Pete’s Place for about three years. “He was very kind to all of us. He helped us out with food and clothes. It seemed like he cared about us, which is rare for the homeless.”
Interfaith Shelter case manager Clinton Herring said Jordan-Berenis turned the shelter from a dangerous place into one that was loving and safe and was a role model for him and others who work with “a very difficult population.”
“I never saw him lose his temper or get angry,” Herring said Monday, before pausing to answer a call from Kellam about how things were going at the shelter.
The pain of losing their friend was evident in both their voices.
“We’re not falling apart here,” Herring assured Kellam, “just inside.”
Jordan-Berenis’ family could not be reached for comment or information on funeral services late Monday.