Though he had lived on the streets for years, Mathew Fiame still found ways to stay connected with his family. But on December 29th, a stabbing on Valencia Street claimed the 39-year-old’s life.

The circumstances of the stabbing remain unclear.

“He was always the strong person, the protector of everybody, and for him to have passed the way he did, it’s heartbreaking,” said his niece, Ula-Latoya Hughes. “He always was protecting everybody, and who was there to protect him?”

That spirited willingness to go to bat for his family earned him the nickname “Spunk.”

“I remember when I was young, I would be at school and I would be like, ‘Well, my uncle will beat you up,’” Hughes remembered.

Fiame, who grew up in Pacifica after his family moved there from the Bayview, took to living in the streets of San Francisco in 2013 after mental illness made living with his family untenable.

“He chose that. If you asked his friends that have seen, him he knows so many people, he’d tell them his situation, like where he lived. And they’d be like, ‘Oh let me help you’ and he’s like, ‘I’m fine.’ His choice was to be where he was at, and that was in the city,” explained his sister, Mafini Fiame.  

Though he tried shelters occasionally, and had the option of returning to the family home, Fiame’s family said he preferred to keep moving.

“At first it was like, he has too much family to be living on the street. But with his mental illness he couldn’t stay in one place for too long. He had to always be moving around,” said Hughes. “We always could find him and he always still called and checked in to let everyone know he was okay.”

Fiame’s sister said he would make an effort to call her on a regular basis, even if it meant borrowing a stranger’s phone.

He may not have had a career, but he did have a passion for rap music. Hughes remembered that he would explain the parts of a rap song to her when she was just nine years old, and then have her sing the hook and rehearse his choreography for it with him.

“One of the last times I seen him, he started rapping and I just looked at him and was like, ‘Are you ever going to let it go? That ship sailed a long time ago, you’re getting old, it’s not gonna happen bro!’ And he’d like, call me a hater and say, ‘I’m gonna be a big time rapper.’”

In Fiame’s obituary through the funeral home, his sister said, the family calls him an “internationally known rapper.”

Hughes said she wasn’t sure if any of his music had ever been recorded before his death, but he was always composing.

Despite scraping by on very little, Fiame was generous with what he had, even if it was only words of faith or a positive attitude.

“I know he loved the Lord. I know when he was sober and thinking straight that he was always trying to spread the word and share whatever he had – whether it was money or food, or just his happiness or his positive attitude,” said Mafini Fiame.

Mathew Fiame is survived by his 20-year-old son, also named Mathew, and eight siblings. A funeral service will be held Saturday and Sunday in Daly City, January 7 to 8, at Duggan’s Mortuary — a viewing and celebration of life on Saturday from 4 p.m. to  9 p.m. and the funeral on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.