Joy Snyder, who’s been spearheading efforts at First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo to shelter the homeless, will receive a Silver Award.
The prize, aimed at “unsung heroes,” was approved unanimously at a recent session of the Quality of Life Commission.
It will be presented at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10 at a San Anselmo Town Council meeting.
The number of men sheltered by the church each winter week “is in the 20s,” according to Snyder. “It used to be in the 40s but now there are transportation challenges in getting them here.”
Snyder took charge of shelter responsibilities in 2010, succeeding Royce Truex and Jo Gross, who jointly had won a Silver Award.
Her main duty is coordinating the Friday night program that runs from the onset of the rainy season in November through April. It’s part of the Rotating Emergency Shelter Team (REST) that provides homeless folks with hot meals and a warm place to sleep.
She also recruits volunteers, “on a community-wide basis, not just in our church, and trains them.”
Part of her workload, too, is retaining those volunteers. She’s been successful at that, now having “50 or 60 regulars, including 15 brand new ones from outside our church.”
She’s pleased, too, with “having changed the demographics of the volunteers, getting younger families.”
To ensure everything going smoothly, Snyder puts out a weekly email newsletter to 117 folks “listing what the assignments are for the following week, acknowledging who did what previously, and doing at least one profile that humanizes a homeless person who’s come to the shelter.”
She wishes “we weren’t needed, but I don’t see any way out. So it’s going to happen again this year.”
REST includes 15 other faith-based organizations in conjunction with San Rafael’s St. Vincent de Paul and Marin’s Interfaith Chaplaincy. The program was spurred by multiple surveys showing more than 1,200 homeless in Marin County — and more than 4,000 “precariously housed” and at risk of homelessness.
It’s been estimated that every year an average of 10 people die homeless in Marin.
“There are common misperceptions about the homeless,” Snyder adds. “I’ve heard people say, ‘We don’t have any homeless in San Anselmo.’ But we do.”
In fact, the day after she made that statement to a reporter, he spotted a homeless man sleeping in Creek Park.
Another false impression, she says, is that the homeless want to stay homeless. She cites one man who called to tell her, after being sober for long enough a time, about getting his own studio apartment. “It was so heartfelt, a chance to him to celebrate — like a teenager getting a first job.”
Snyder’s volunteerism is more remarkable because the 63-year-old is disabled.
“I have a bad back, arthritis — a bad gene pool. But my disability gave me more sympathy for the homeless and other people in need, especially when my income dropped severely.”
Snyder has lived in San Anselmo 10 years. She’s been affiliated with First Presbyterian Church the same length of time, having told the pastor “the church was the closest one to my home that was acceptable — liberal, progressive, compassionate.”
Right after she joined, church members delivered meals to her on a daily basis while she was healing from major back surgery.
“I got a real picture of volunteerism through that,” she remembers.
Her own immersion as a volunteer actually had started in Ohio after being “was very involved as a writer and reporter covering several suburbs during the AIDs crisis.”
She loves her work at “First Pres,” as it’s often called, partially because “I don’t trust my back — I can’t sit comfortably for too long” and the church is within strolling distance. “I couldn’t be better located,” she says. “San Anselmo is so walkable.”
Snyder will become the 30th winner of the Silver Award.
Previous recipients were Joey Epstein, Shirley Paradiso, Bonnie Carson, Ted Freeman, Sue McDowell, Phyllis Ostrander, Carla Overberger, Judy Coy, Kathy Thornton, Dick Stutsman, Nancy Vernon, Barbara Dwyer, Peter Penhallow, the husband-and-wife team of Teri and Alex Rockas, Eli Welber and Steve Lee, Grace Komo, Ben Burtt, Royce Truex and Jo Gross, Michael Schwab, Deborah Cichocki, Kay Peacock, Frank Ortiz, Tom Boss, the husband-wife team of Patricia and Chuck Swensen, Bill Abright, Cynnie Barrows, Marilyn Girodo, Sophia Spencer hand Dollie Frauens.