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Former homeless man starts scrap-metal business

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Anna Marie Lux
February 26, 2014

JANESVILLE—Scott Snyder made a promise to himself when he began staying at the GIFTS homeless shelter for men in late 2012.

“I told them I would be out of there before the end of the season,” he said.

The 52-year-old meant what he said.

Every day, he left the Janesville shelter in a borrowed truck and canvassed the countryside for scrap metal.

By nightfall, he had a full load.

“I've got an eye for scrap,” he said. “I asked people if they wanted it out of their yards. I was able to save a little money every day.”

Salvage became his salvation.

By February 2013, Snyder had put away enough money to move out of the shelter.

He never intended for “scrapping” to be anything but a stepping stone.

“Then it blossomed into a business,” Snyder said. “I saw a living could be made if I treated it like a job.”

In the last four months, he has put 30,000 miles on his truck scouring for used metal. He searches Dumpsters. He takes down steel buildings and recycles them. He also buys junked cars and picks up appliances free of charge.

In addition to earning money, he feels good about keeping the scrap metal out of landfills.

“Instead, it goes to the salvage yard where something useful will be made of it,” Snyder said.

A carpenter for 30 years, he said he never really enjoyed the craft but was good at it.

Gathering scrap metal is different.

“I love my job now,” Snyder said. “My grandfather told me if you love your job, you'll never work a day in your life.”

His hard work is paying off in another way. On April 1, Snyder of Avalon plans to buy a house.

He has come a long way since he found food and shelter at GIFTS with only the clothes on his back. The homeless shelter rotates from church to church, one week at a time, and is open October through April.

Without GIFTS, Snyder does not know where he would have gone.

A longtime Janesville resident, he was addicted to drugs since he was a teenager. He has been in jail and went to prison for forgery and bail jumping due to his drug use. In prison, he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

More than a year ago, Snyder's probation officer got him involved in the drug court program for people who are chemically dependent.

“I was on a battery of medication,” Snyder said. “I religiously took the medication but it didn't seem to give me what I needed.”

Eventually, a form of psychotherapy made all the difference for him.

“I have no desire to use now,” Snyder said. “If I can get up sober and go to bed sober, that's a huge success.”

Stephanie Burton, executive director of GIFTS, called Snyder “a member of our family.”

“We keep in touch with Scott, even though he has checked out,” she said. “We get attached to these guys. We want to continue to support them.”

She is thrilled with his progress.

“It doesn't surprise me at all that he is where he is today,” Burton said. “With the help of God and hard work, he will continue to succeed.”

Since October, GIFTS has opened a center at Janesville's Trinity Episcopal Church to help men connect with important resources in the community. Each homeless man is paired with a trained volunteer who helps him come up with a plan to respectfully regain his footing in society.

Thirty-one churches in the Janesville area, including 14 that house the homeless overnight, support GIFTS. The shelter has been averaging about 27 men a night.

“We are here to help one guest at a time,” Burton said. “We can provide for their basic needs so they can implement a plan to get back on their feet.”

Paul Benish, vice-chairman of GIFTS, loaned Snyder his car so he could take a driver's license test.

Snyder eventually bought a 1993 diesel truck with 112,000 miles on it and a 20-foot trailer with a 9,000-pound winch for his young business. He just paid off the trailer a few weeks ago.

“Scott is one of our great success stories,” Benish said. “He has goals and a positive attitude. When you see success like his, it makes everything we do worthwhile.”

Snyder returns to the shelter once a week to offer hope and inspiration.

“I don't ever want to forget where I came from,” he said. “One of the things I tell people is that—whether you are rich or poor—everyone is one bad decision away from becoming homeless. It can happen to anyone.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.



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