The chairman of a federal task force on homelessness visited the 800-bed shelter run by the Community for Creative Non-Violence yesterday and said he hopes to meet Monday with Mitch Snyder, the group's leader, to discuss ways to improve squalid conditions there.
Snyder, who completed the 49th day of a hunger strike yesterday, has said that he will not resume eating until federal officials comply with his demands and allocate $5 million to repair the shelter, located at 425 Second St. NW. Snyder, who is bedridden, repeated that vow yesterday through a spokesman.
"Our response is that if they have that much time to play with, we don't," said Carol Fennelly, a spokesman for the CCNV. "I just hope Mitch can make that meeting on Monday."
Harvey Vieth, chairman of the federal Task Force on Food and Shelter, who visited the shelter with two officials from the General Services Administration, urged Snyder to resume eating, as he did earlier in the week.
"We're pushing as fast as we can," said Vieth, who added that he did not yet know what needed to be done to repair the shelter or how much the repairs might cost. "It's his will that he's going by, but I encourage Mitch to stop."
Earlier in the day, House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) and Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.) urged the administration to allocate money to repair the shelter, one of the largest in the country, located three blocks from the Capitol.
Snyder, who has lost 60 pounds since Sept. 15 when he began fasting and drinking only small amounts of water, met with Gonzalez for nearly half an hour yesterday and then briefly with the press.
He reiterated his promise to starve himself to death unless his demands are met.
Dr. Deborah B. Goldberg, a Silver Spring internist who examined Snyder at the request of friends, said the 41-year-old activist has lost so much weight that he is now "in a critical phase and could die at any moment."
Despite pleas from O'Neill, Gonzalez and high-ranking federal officials that he abandon his fast, Snyder said he "has no choice" but to die unless the administration agrees to appropriate $5 million to fix the shelter and withdraws a controversial report issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that he says greatly underestimates the homeless population.
"People I love very deeply are in danger," said Snyder, who lay in bed with his eyes closed and copies of the HUD report and a Bible nearby. "I've never been in worse shape . . . . My life is in God's hands."
O'Neill, a longtime supporter of Snyder, sent a wire to Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler Thursday night asking her to intervene in the dispute.
"We don't agree with what he's doing," said O'Neill spokesman Chris Matthews, "but we agree with the cause and think something should be done to stop his death. The issue is making that building habitable."
Gonzalez, chairman of a housing subcommitee that held hearings on homelessness at the shelter last winter, castigated what he called "the callousness of the administration."
He told reporters outside CCNV's communal house at 1345 Euclid Street NW that "I certainly hold the president responsible for anything that happens to Mitch."
White House officials declined to comment on the fast or Gonzalez's statements.
Goldberg said yesterday that Snyder, who is unable to sleep, is suffering considerable abdominal pain from dehydration and vitamin deficiency as well as pain from untreated bronchitis.
Because he has lost more than one third of his normal body weight, Goldberg said, Snyder is in a critical phase.