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Meet the man bringing hope to NYC’s homeless population

Salvatore-Snaiderbaur-one-city-mission

Courtesy of Salvatore Snaiderbaur

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 07/02/23

Salvatore Snaiderbaur organizes One City Mission, a street mission of hope and friendship for everyone who needs it.

Salvatore Snaiderbaur was at dinner with a group when his friend Sam asked how many children he had. He said he didn’t have any. Sam replied, “And what are we? Aren’t we your children?” 

You see, this was no ordinary gathering, and theirs was no ordinary friendship. 

Snaiderbaur organizes One City Mission, a street mission in New York City. And Sam is someone experiencing homelessness with whom Snaiderbaur often meets up and has dinner. 

What is One City Mission exactly? Their website says:

We are a street mission of hope and friendship for beggars, street vendors, storekeepers, and commuters … We strive to meet the needs of beggars and commuters in our ordinary life on the street.

We had the chance to catch up with Snaiderbaur to hear more about his work. Here’s our conversation.

How did you start organizing One City Mission?

One City Mission started when I encountered individuals experiencing homelessness on the streets of New York City. Their challenging circumstances had stripped away their hope, and I couldn’t ignore their plight any longer. In particular, one night I met a man named Alan outside the abandoned Church of St. James in Manhattan. It was a powerful moment that made me realize I couldn’t simply pass the problem onto others. 

A year later, I had another encounter, this time with a man named Jorge at the exact same spot. It felt like a sign, affirming the path I needed to take. I began to open up to Jorge about my own personal struggles at the time, and that gave him the courage to share his own experiences. Surprisingly, it was Jorge who began encouraging me. This connection became a paradigm for all future encounters, where we bonded over our shared desires for happiness while also acknowledging our limitations.

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A gathering of One City Mission.

How long have you been involved with this kind of work?

One City Mission was officially established in 2018, but the impetus began in 2013, as I considered what it meant to “go to the peripheries,” as Pope Francis was encouraging all of us to do. I began actively engaging with individuals on the streets and in the subway, and acknowledging the presence of beggars, street vendors, and even police officers. These interactions opened my eyes to the realities faced by people living on the margins of society. 

I then spent five years volunteering with various organizations. My Franciscan friends were especially supportive and influential. Volunteering at their St. Anthony Shelter in the Bronx significantly shaped my understanding and approach to addressing homelessness. I began to feel a deep calling to provide a “House” made up of human connections for the unsheltered. I wanted to create a platform that would empower all New Yorkers who wanted to help but didn’t know how.

What kind of work and projects do you do with One City Mission?

One City Mission tries to tackle the multifaceted problem of homelessness by focusing on individuals who find it truly challenging to access services or accept help. There are many reasons for this resistance — be it negative experiences within the shelter system, social anxiety, or the erosion of human dignity due to social avoidance. We understand these issues are real and try to address them with compassion. 

We have four Community Points that meet weekly. These Community Points are street gatherings where we distribute food and clothes. They are located in the Financial District, Midtown Manhattan, the Upper West Side, and Washington Square Park. We also aim to address the unique challenges faced by asylum seekers in New York City. Many of them experience prolonged periods of homelessness during their transition, with no adequate means of support.

Currently, we’re working towards establishing “The Good Center” to specifically aid asylum seekers and their unique problems. And while our core work remains focused on street outreach, we also recognize the urgent need to provide assistance to families with young children. These families often come to our Community Points at night, seeking food and clothing. It’s crucial that we establish a dedicated space where we can better help these families overcome the trauma of displacement and facilitate their social integration into the New York City community.

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A Community Point of One City Mission

How many people are involved in One City Mission, including staff/volunteers and those receiving services?

We’re fortunate to have a dedicated team of volunteers who serve as the backbone of our organization. Roughly 30 volunteers generously donate their time and energy, setting aside an afternoon or evening each week to serve the 150 to 200 homeless individuals or asylum seekers we encounter on a weekly basis. 

These friends embrace One City Mission with a strong sense of ownership. Their passion and unwavering commitment always inspire me. I’m especially grateful to Fr. Luigi Portarulo at Our Lady of Pompeii in Greenwich Village. He’s been an incredible supporter of our work and has made a significant impact on our mission, particularly at our Community Point in Washington Square Park.

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People experiencing homelessness, asylum seekers, and everyday commuters come to the Community Points.

Is there something interested readers could do to help your work?

Absolutely! There’s a simple way for you, as an interested reader, to make a real impact. It starts with a single small gesture: saying hi to a beggar on the street. By doing that, you will become a part of our mission. 

We believe in the power of authentic connections, and that becomes the key to providing essential support to the most vulnerable. It’s that ability to connect on a personal level that sets One City Mission apart. We invite anyone who genuinely cares and is attuned to the needs of others to join us. 

Whether you’re in New York City or someplace else, we’re here to offer guidance and support if you want to embark on similar initiatives in your own neighborhood.

And as we work towards establishing “The Good Center” to aid asylum seekers, we will need your support and involvement more than ever.

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Sal Snaiderbaur with a friend.

What is the most important thing you would like people to know about your work with One City Mission?

At this particular moment, I strongly desire to follow the invitation of Pope Francis to become a “prophet of peace.” I was very moved by something the pope said during a papal audience last year in St. Peter’s Square, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Fr. Luigi Giussani. He stated: “Our increasingly violent and warlike world concerns me. Yet, through our prophetic witness to God’s presence in the poor, abandoned, vulnerable, and condemned, we contribute to fulfilling the human heart’s aspirations for love, truth, justice, and happiness.” 

We may not possess the power to single-handedly end wars or eradicate poverty, but we can’t afford to wait for better circumstances to recognize God’s presence in the lives of the poor. It is our responsibility to actively seek out and embrace the presence of God in those who are marginalized and vulnerable.

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