Bret Matsutaro was a curious, creative man. A listener, a musician, a learner and a friend. As a homeless man himself, he was an advocate for better treatment of the community. Matsutaro touched many people’s lives before passing on July 18. Friends say it was a fentanyl overdose that killed him. He was fiercely loyal in his commitment to treat people with kindness.
“He’d give his last dollar to the next addict or homeless person he saw instead of holding it for himself,” his girlfriend, Sherry Hernandez, says. “Even if that meant he goes without.”
July 23 would’ve given Hernandez and Matsutaro a full year of loving each other. Hernandez says that when they first met, she was at her lowest place; she credits him for helping her work through a lot of hard times.
Matsutaro was that way for most everyone who was able to know him. Matsutaro met his friend Eric Jackson in 2018 while they were both protesting for better treatment of the homeless, and Jackson says that the two of them spent a lot of their time together while protesting. Jackson says Matsutaro’s presence was always meaningful, whether he was playing drums with a bucket or a box, or talking with anyone about philosophy and life.
“He was really interested in humans, and he was really interested in being a good human himself,” Jackson says.
Matsutaro was a practitioner of the Jewish faith; he even taught himself Hebrew. He was intuitive with animals. Hernandez says that several times a dog would approach him, and their owner would say “Gosh, my dog doesn’t ever go to anybody.”
He was passionate about his community and volunteering his time with community outreach. He took great pride in working at the Las Vegas airport on 9/11. He wanted to volunteer for CAHOOTS, the HIV Alliance, and Community Supported Shelters, as soon as he was able to deal with his mental health issues. Cisco Santana, Matsutaro’s friend and former roommate, described him as a guy who “craved information, craved knowledge, and was always trying to work on himself.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever met anybody as self aware as Bret was,” Santana says.
Matsutaro loved music, too. And dancing. He knew and appreciated any kind of electronic rap, East Coast rap, especially. Santana says he was amazing at the drums. Hernandez says some of her favorite memories with him were riding bikes around town, with Matsutaro playing music through his backpack speaker.
Most everyone in Matsutaro’s circle knew that Monday’s were “his day,” where he would spend money and lend people money, as those were the days he received his Social Security check.
“Those are the days that he kind of went full throttle in a sense,” Hernandez says.
He died on a Monday.
Matsutaro dealt with schizophrenia and mental health issues, and would reach out to Santana in moments when the voices brought him into a place of darkness, Santana said. The two would get away from everybody, and ride their bikes to the rock climbing wall at Skinner Butte and watch the sunrise.
In the past five years, Matsaturo was able to connect with his sister who lives in Georgia. The two would video chat on Facebook Messenger, and he would engage with her kids and grandkids.
He loved and was loved by many.
“He loved me so hard to the day he died,” Hernandez says. “The morning he passed away, he wrote me a love letter, and it was so sincere, and so deep and so sweet.”
A celebration of life will be held for Bret Matsutaro on Monday, August 8, at the Roosevelt Safe Sleep site on Highway 99.
Eugene Weekly seeks to run an obituary for those who die homeless in Lane County in 2022. This is the second we’ve published so far. If you know of someone who has died while homeless this year, please let us know at Editor@EugeneWeekly.com.