Friends and loved ones who knew Joe Jordan-Berenis agree: His life made a difference.
In Santa Fe, that difference was demonstrated through his leadership of the Interfaith Community Shelter, known by one and all as Pete’s Place — Pete, after the pet store that once occupied the building at Cerrillos and Harrison roads.
Those friends are gathering Friday to celebrate his life at the Scottish Rite Temple in Santa Fe. Jordan-Berenis died unexpectedly in October after retiring from the shelter earlier in the year. His retirement didn’t last long — he had agreed to temporarily run the place when his successor did not work out.
It cannot be coincidence that this period of transition has been so difficult for Pete’s. Staffers, like all workers during the pandemic, are stretched to the limit as they deal with COVID-19 protocols and other changes prompted by the reality of a contagious and potentially fatal disease.
Many volunteers have had to cut back, or stop completely, given their ages and danger of serious illness. Meanwhile, homelessness seems to be worsening, with additional people on the streets, pushing shopping carts and sleeping under tarps in public parks and arroyos.
The problem feels as if it’s bigger than current solutions — whether Pete’s Place, St. Elizabeth Shelter, housing at the midtown campus and the many other ways individuals and government are seeking to alleviate suffering.
A new executive director for the shelter has been named. Korina Lopez comes to Pete’s from the midtown campus, which became an emergency shelter during the pandemic.
She has challenges ahead.
The shelter has had an uneasy relationship with neighbors since it moved to the Cerrillos Road location back in 2009. It’s no wonder. People who operate businesses and live near a shelter worry — fretful about drug use, hygiene or other perceived threats.
And concerns have escalated in recent years as people, often those barred from shelter property, began camping outside the shelter grounds on Harrison Road.
Bystanders report drug deals, petty thefts, violence, criminal trespass and threats from the people on the streets.
At times, police patrols have worked to break up the camps and make surroundings secure. Once the patrols stop, the problems return.
Last week, a longtime business owner and shelter neighbor closed up until the issues are addressed, saying: “I cannot serve my customers safely on the most dangerous street in Santa Fe.”
Jordan-Berenis, writing in October 2020 about neighborhood concerns, reminded everyone that patrolling Harrison Road is a city responsibility.
“The actual issue at hand,” he said, “is the 10 or 15 individuals who are not allowed on shelter property but who loiter on and around Harrison [Road].”
He called for a return to frequent police patrols and community policing. He suggested officers could eat a snack or fill out reports while in the neighborhood, with their continual presence making a difference with a minimum of effort. And he kept in mind, always, the 1,315 people the shelter served who caused no problems for the neighborhood.
That ethic of service, compassion and care for the vulnerable set an example for all of Santa Fe. Jordan-Berenis’ work must continue.
That means running a shelter where people receive the support they need and deserve — whether at the current location or in larger space that better accommodates demand.
At the same time, neighbors must be able to operate businesses and feel safe in their homes. The two goals cannot be mutually exclusive. Pete’s Place is where it is — for now — so the immediate focus must be ensuring Harrison Road is made safer.
Ask what Joe would do, and think about what his ideas might be for a shelter that works better for everyone.
Be inspired as his life is celebrated, and then return to the work that gave his life such purpose.