Brooke Ashley Treanor was 26 years old in February when she left a rehabilitation center. Two days later, she was homeless again and overdosed on pure fentanyl, her mother, Ginger Treanor, told a crowd at Milam Park in downtown San Antonio on Tuesday night.

“As a mom, I get it; the sorrow seems endless,” said Treanor, 60, who began volunteering to serve the homeless population after her daughter’s death. “They are someone’s mom, dad, daughter, son, brother, sister. Trauma is the only one thing that they all have in common. It’s sent them onto the streets for various reasons.

“Love is an eternal bond between a mother and a child. No matter how many bridges [Brooke] burned, I never stopped loving her, and she knew it,” she said. “Drugs did not define who she was, nor does it define the [other] people who lost their lives on the streets this past year while homeless.”

Brooke’s name was one of 71 that were called out during SAMMinistries’ 15th annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service to honor those who have died this year. After each name was called, a candle was lit and a golden bell rang.

The ceremony was part of a national day of recognition.

“Tonight, the winter solstice, was chosen for this recognition because it is the shortest day and the longest night of the year,” said Nikisha Baker, president and CEO of SAMMinistries, an interfaith ministry that provides housing and services for the homeless. “The coldest and darkest time for those experiencing unsheltered homelessness, a time when their living conditions and exposure to the elements make them especially susceptible to premature death.”

A candle is lit for each of the 71 houseless individuals who died in 2021m during SAMMinistries'15th Annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service Tuesday.
A candle is lit for each of the 71 homeless individuals who died in 2021 during SAMMinistries’ 15th annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service on Tuesday. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Throughout the ceremony, attendees picked up markers to write the names of those who have died on smooth rocks.

“Let the weight of the rock remind you of the heavy burden those experiencing homelessness carry,” Baker said. “May the light from the candles we lit tonight ignite a passion to house people in the coming year.”

Organizers also took a moment to recognize Faithbound Street Ministries founder Debra Gonzales-Stepherson. Known as “Miss Debra” to the unsheltered people she helped, Gonzales-Stepherson passed away in October after a battle with cancer.

“Throughout her battle with the monster [what she called her cancer], her faith never seemed to waver,” said Rex Brien, director of rapid re-housing and prevention services at SAMMinistries. “Her faith let her walk an extremely difficult walk with grace. During this time, in the middle of it all, she was still getting out into the community and serving.”

Attendees Tuesday night received free food and beverages and listened to the Corazón Ministries homeless choir, who sang “People Get Ready” by The Impressions.

Mark Carmona, the City of San Antonio’s first housing officer, who was hired in September, noted that a portion of the upcoming housing bond is targeted at homelessness mitigation and prevention. A citizen bond committee recommended that $25 million of the $150 million housing bond be directed toward permanent supportive housing for people who are chronically homeless — other funds will be used to repair and build homes for vulnerable populations.

“We will continue to seek out new partnerships and resources to help us advance our collective work in this space,” Carmona said.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org