'I Give To People Who Are Suffering'

the value of timing. In 1984, with the presidential election less than two months away, the outspoken advocate for the homeless went on a hunger strike in Washington, D.C. He wanted to force the U.S. government to donate an abandoned federal building to the homeless. Two days before the election, Ronald Reagan gave in--and agreed to allocate $5 million to create a shelter that now houses some 1,200 residents. Emaciated from his 51-day fast, Snyder emerged a national figure, and his gamble made homelessness a national issue. But in recent months Snyder, 46, worried that public sympathy was slipping away. Then fellow activist Carol Fennelly, 40, called off their wedding plans. Last week, leaving a note saying that he couldn't handle "breaking up," Snyder hanged himself in his shelter bedroom.

Snyder took an unorthodox path to activism. By 1967, the high-school dropout from a Jewish family in Brooklyn was married with two small sons. Jumping from job to job, he periodically abandoned his family. During one separation, Snyder was arrested for car theft in Las Vegas and wound up in federal prison in Danbury, Conn. There his fellow inmates, anti-Vietnam priests Philip and Daniel Berrigan, converted him to their radical Christian philosophy. After his release in 1972 Snyder joined the Community for Creative Non-Violence in Washington, where he began to work for the homeless. His family didn't see him again until "60 Minutes" covered the 1984 fast. "I give to people who are suffering," Snyder once said, "but that's got little to do with people who are around me. They pay the price."

Snyder never lacked critics. Some accused him of having a messiah complex. "God told me to do it," he sometimes said of his work. Fellow activists were angry when he urged the homeless not to participate in the 1990 census; he said the official count would inevitably be too low. Others charged he was too chummy with celebrities who flocked to his side when he was famous enough to be the subject of a TV movie starring Martin Sheen and a documentary film. But to his constituents he was a relentless advocate. With his death, they have to worry about finding a new voice forceful enough to rally support for their cause.