The ashes of longtime advocate for the homeless Mitch Snyder were scattered yesterday among the graves of some of the homeless men and women he cared about in the nation's capital.
Nearly 100 people took off their shoes and stood on what a minister called holy ground as Snyder was remembered during a public ceremony at Luther Place Memorial Church in Northwest Washington.
"Mitch was a meteor," said John Steinbruck, a retired pastor who worked closely with Snyder in the 1980s when they were most active in the movement. He described Snyder as a flash of light in the sky--who came from nowhere, stayed for a few critical moments, helped focus society's attention on what was important and left behind his legacy.
Snyder, who committed suicide in July 1990 at the age of 46, was best known for staging fasts to persuade government or church officials to take care of homeless people living on the city's streets. Working with the Community for Creative Non-Violence, he used this protest tactic--sometimes almost dying by fasting--to persuade the administration of Ronald Reagan to donate a large downtown building to CCNV to provide shelter for about 1,400 homeless.
That shelter, now named for Snyder, is at Second and D streets NW.
Carol Fennelly, Snyder's longtime companion, brought Snyder's ashes in a wooden urn and held the box tightly before sprinkling the ashes over the small grave site of 18 homeless people who are buried at the church. She then placed a white rose on the ashes.
Fennelly, 50, is getting ready to move to Youngstown, Ohio, to set up family services for 1,700 D.C. prison inmates who have been transferred from Lorton Correctional Complex.
"He belongs here in D.C.," she said. "This was his home and these homeless people were his family."
Fennelly has founded the Hope House in Youngstown and is setting up a program so fathers in prison can have video teleconferencing with their children and maintain family ties.
The inmates "don't have anyone else around in case something happens to them," she said.
Snyder learned what it was to be forgotten when he spent time in jail during the early 1970s for car theft. While in prison, he met and was influenced by Philip and Daniel Berrigan, radical Catholic priests who had been jailed for their involvement in anti-war protests.
"Mitch impacted my life more than anyone else," Fennelly said. "We shared more than just our lives together. We shared our work, a vision and a dream. You never get over that kind of loss."
Snyder lived in the CCNV homeless shelter, became an unpaid activist and did whatever he thought necessary to make the homeless problem visible. He was, said Steinbruck, an abrasive activist.
"Mitch could be a pain," Steinbruck said. "We need prophets like Mitch. We need someone to tell us which way we must go."
Marie Bowen, 54, who has lived in the shelter since July, said she admired Snyder because "he cared for people as well as the larger issues. When he died, I think he knew it was time for him to go. He knew his work was done and it was time to take a rest."
If Snyder were alive today, Fennelly said, he would be fighting for what he believed in.
"I think he left behind a legacy of courage," she said. "In the face of everyone telling him that his dream of a world without homelessness could not become a reality, he persevered. That takes incredible courage."
CAPTION: Carol Fennelly holds an urn containing Mitch Snyder's ashes during a memorial service at Luther Place Memorial Church. Snyder's ashes were scattered on a grave site for the homeless.