There was “Szzrz,” who first showed up to the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place during a snowstorm, wearing socks but no shoes.
Then Clifford, who was known for a flame-patterned bandana and calm demeanor.
And Gabe, a combat veteran, whose bear hugs were so tight “you’d think you might pop.”
They are just a few of the 26 known members of Santa Fe’s homeless community who died in 2018. On Friday afternoon, about 60 people gathered outside of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church to honor their lives and pay respect to a community that facilitators say is far too often overlooked.
At the beginning of the service, however, it was clear: This isn’t about death.
“We want to focus on how everyone lived — not how everyone died,” said Paige Kitson, Street Outreach Program Director for Youth Shelters and Family Services. “These folks gave us the opportunity to love them.”
As the sun began to make its descent, family, friends and strangers joined to hear stories of each individual — their smiles, jobs, opinionated attitudes and more.
Those who died ranged in age from 20 to 67, according to a list provided at the service. At least one of them died in an arroyo, though many of them spent their nights in local shelters such as the Interfaith Community Shelter or the St. Elizabeth Shelter.
Though organizers wanted to focus on qualities such as Savannah’s “beautiful smile that was very contagious,” or Jose’s relentless faith in God, or jokes Margarito would make about combing his own hair, the heartache of loss was evident.
During the service, Daniel Craig, a case manager at Health Care for the Homeless, shared the life of the late Rev. Ray Masterson, an advocate for the homeless community whom he said he met through Veterans for Peace.
Masterson — commonly known as “Balloon Man” for his balloon-making skills — had a wild history, Craig said, including enlisting for service during the Vietnam War at age 15. Craig said Masterson went on to become an ordained minister, was at one point homeless, and became heavily involved in assisting homeless people in the San Francisco Bay area. He moved to Santa Fe in the 1990s, Craig said.
“Through his experience with addiction and recovery and homelessness, he helped the homeless community,” said Craig, adding Masterson is considered instrumental in founding the Interfaith Community Shelter.
Masterson, he said, died of lung cancer at age 65 this fall.
Kitson said at least three who died this year were hit by cars on Cerrillos Road. Four deaths, she added, were due to overdoses.
She also noted that at least three individuals were in their 20s — a trend Joe Dudziak, a volunteer at the Interfaith Community Shelter, said is often linked to opioid use.
Thankfully, Kitson said, no deaths were due to hypothermia.
At each year’s service, the names of every individual are written with colorful paints on rocks, to “put a name to a person,” explained Dudziak.
“All of these folks impacted our lives so much,” added Kitson, recalling intimate moments she shared with nearly every person on this year’s list. “They weren’t just homeless people … They’re part of our community, they contributed to our community, they grew up in our community. How can we not honor them?”