David Sneade works as the director and minister at a homeless shelter in downtown Charleston. He was homeless himself, off and on, for about 19 years.
“I wouldn’t be afraid to say there’s at least 2,500-3,000 homeless people just in Charleston,” said Sneade, who has spoken with many of those people.
He works with Union Mission, a Christian organization that receives no government assistance and serves about 30,000-40,000 men women and children a month across West Virginia. Union Mission receives about $7 million a year from private donations.
Sneade's job and life's mission often includes going out in the middle of the night, offering people water, hot soup and sandwiches.
“The people that you see in Charleston, just Charleston alone, during the day are not the same people you will see walking around Charleston at night,” he said.
On an extremely hot and muggy night a few summers ago, Sneade and another chaplain from Union Mission were handing out water and sandwiches to people. Two blocks from the shimmering gold of the state capitol building, they saw a woman who was leaning against a fence. They offered her a bottle of water and two sandwiches.
“And she asked for 3 more bottles of water and 6 sandwiches and we gave it to her and she started crying and saying now she wouldn’t have to go out and prostitute her body, she could stay home and feed her kids.”
Another night last summer, Sneade and another chaplain were on the West Side giving out water.
“One of the little kids was a little girl about 2 years old. Her mom gave her that little 8 oz. bottle of water, and she was just gulping it down, she was so dehydrated."
That girl finished the water and began to cry. When you haven’t had enough to drink, you can’t make tears. They gave her another bottle of water, and then another. It was so hot and muggy and she was so tired, that she continued to cry as she drank about four bottles of water.
Sneade has worked in the Union Mission Crossroads shelter for about 10 years. And in the last two years, he says the number of people in need has increased as the economy in West Virginia has suffered many job losses. Since 2012, the number of men staying at the shelter has doubled.
Like many of those who work at the shelter, Sneade used to be homeless himself. He grew up extremely poor in a small town in Maryland. His father tried to drown him when he was just six months old.
“These people don’t know what love is. I didn’t know what love is. My father, when I was six months old, threw me in the canal. He picked me up out of the crib one morning and walked down to the edge of the canal there and threw me in and just walked away.”
As a baby, Sneade was discovered in the water and spent the next 6 months in the hospital with malnutrition and pneumonia. Not long ago, he reunited with his father.
“I love my dad. My grandmother said, ‘But he tried to kill you.’ I love my dad.”
But it took Sneade a lot of hard years living on the streets, and at least four close calls with death, before he got to this point of forgiveness. And he points out that many people who are homeless have been hurt and abused. One of the things that hurts the most, is whenever he hears people making fun of someone on the street. He knows the pain of that too.
“I guess the whole time that I’ve been saved and sober I just tell people… homeless people, they’re not the outcasts of society. I just try to hug them and tell them I love them. I believe in tough love.”
More information about Union Mission can be found on their website.
This story from West Virginia Public Radio is featured in The Charleston Gazette. Click here to view the article.