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Date Posted: Sunday, July 05, 04:15:17pm
Mitch Snyder, who became a national figure in giving the movement in support of homeless people a public voice and face throughout the 1980's, was found hanged today in an apparent suicide.
The police said his body, which was found in a closed room at a shelter for the homeless that he obtained from the Federal Government after a 51-day fast in 1984, might have been there for several days.
The reason for his suicide was not immediately clear.
In recent months Mr. Snyder, who was 46 years old, had expressed frustration with what he called waning public interest in the problems of the homeless and his confrontational style had been under attack by other advocates for the homeless.
Suicide Note Reported
But the police said Mr. Snyder had left a suicide note, and The Associated Press, citing police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported that the note attributed his death to sorrow over a failed love affair. Earlier in the year, Mr. Snyder said he planned to marry his longtime companion, Carol Fennelly. But in an interview last month he said his plans were uncertain.
In the interview Mr. Snyder expressed regret over what he called a ''backlash, a psychic numbing'' over the homeless and said, ''Politically, the issue isn't there; it's gone.''
Mr. Snyder, whose fasts had been a successful tactical weapon, said he was searching for new ways to shock and anger the public and thereby attract attention to homelessness.
''We're ready to take a deep breath and let it go, start pounding away at that wall head first and see what's hardest, our head or their wall,'' he said.
Monastery Visit Planned
He said he was contemplating visiting a monastery to tighten his ties to God because ''in the heat of the struggle, day to day, sometimes that relationship gets neglected.''
Ms. Fennelly, 40, has for more than a dozen years shared Mr. Snyder's work at the headquarters of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, which administers the shelter given him by the Government. She wept today as she read a five-sentence statement in which she vowed to ''continue the struggle.'' Then, standing on the steps of the shelter under darkening skies that shook with thunder, she added: ''Mitch always said good things happen when it rains. Today he was wrong.''
Mr. Snyder rose to national prominence in the Presidential campaign of 1984, when he began his long fast demanding that President Ronald Reagan intervene to give an abandoned Federal building in Washington to his group for a shelter.
Two days before the election, on the 51st day of the fast, the Government acceded to Mr. Snyder's demands. But Mr. Snyder fasted twice more, when $6 million in promised money for renovations failed to materialize on time.
His life and work became the subject of a CBS television movie in 1986 starring Martin Sheen, called ''Samaritan: The Mitch Snyder Story.'' A year later, Mr. Sheen, Dennis Quaid, Cicely Tyson and other celebrities joined Mr. Snyder sleeping on the street to protest Federal policies toward the homeless.
Born in Brooklyn
Mitchell Darryl Snyder was born and reared in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. His father, Robert Snyder, left the family when the boy was 9 years old.
As a teen-ager he was repeatedly arrested for breaking into parking meters, and served a stint in reform school in upstate New York. He later dropped out of high school.
Mr. Snyder married in 1963, to Ellen Kleiman; they had two sons, Ricky in 1965 and Dean in 1967. He worked selling vacuum cleaners and washing machines, as a job counselor on Madison Avenue, and as a construction worker.
Imprisoned for Auto Theft
He separated from his family several times, and during one of those separations, in 1970, he was arrested for auto theft in Las Vegas. He was transferred to Federal prison in Danbury, Conn., where he met Daniel and Philip Berrigan, the two anti-war priests who had been imprisoned for destroying draft records. Mr. Snyder became a follower of the Berrigans' brand of radical Catholicism. It was in prison that he conducted his first prolonged hunger strike, 33 days protesting the treatment of prisoners in Vietnam.
After his release in 1973, he moved to Washington to join the Community fo Creative Non-Violence, then an anti-war group.
He had no further contact with his family until 1985, when his sons and former wife saw him on the CBS News program ''60 Minutes.''
In the 1970's Mr. Snyder fasted on behalf of a variety of causes. He engaged in a showdown with a local church over its plans to spend $80,000 on building renovation, a sum he thought excessive. But the priest refused to back down and Mr. Snyder ended his fast.
In 1978, he led members of the Community for Creative Non-Violence in parading a coffin around the District of Columbia Building and doused the walls with blood to protest what he called the city government's inadequate attention to the homeless.
Movement's Street Guerrilla
While the movement for the homeless included lawyers, social workers, priests and politicians, Mr. Snyder was its street guerrilla.
''He dramatized things like no one else, and he used anger as a weapon,'' said Robert Hayes, founder of the National Coalition for the Homeless. ''He used it to push, prod, irritate - and ultimately, people did things.''
But recently Mr. Snyder's tactics had begun to irritate others in the movement, including members of his group who charged in a meeting at the shelter several months ago that he had grown too authoritarian.
Mr. Snyder angered some homeless advocates when he urged the homeless not to cooperate with the 1990 census, arguing that any effort by the Government would result in an undercount.
He was also saddled by reports in recent months that his 1,400-bed shelter was plagued by widespread drug use.
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