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Homeless no more, kids reunited with father in Detroit Lakes

playing guitar for tourists was one way oldest brother, 'Z,' would make money for food while he and his sister and brothers survived on their own in Hawaii. The siblings begged for money and slept in a make-shift tent in the bushes, all the while taking care of each other.1 / 2
homeless last month, the Snyder kids (from left) Joey, 'Z,' Emily, and Jake were recently reunited with their father, Jake (far right). The siblings lived and slept on the streets of Hawaii for roughly three months before the Salvation Army stepped in to help.2 / 2

The term "home for the holidays" holds a deeper meaning for a family new to Detroit Lakes this year.

That's because only a couple of weeks ago, 16-year-old 'Z', 15-year-old Emily, 14-year-old Jake and 11-year-old Joey were homeless -- literally living on the streets of Hawaii after their mother abandoned them there a few months ago.

Their father, a carpenter who traded his services for free boarding, had been raising the children on his own for six years.

"The kids were always with me ... always," said Jake Snyder, who  says although they had moved from state to state, they had spent most of their time in Colorado.

But after one of the "trades" took him and his kids to Hawaii in March, their estranged mother came back into their lives.

According to Snyder, things seemed to be fine, as she moved in with them.

But with work proving scarce in Hawaii, Snyder began looking stateside for another trade -- and found one.

"A few of my friends had told me I should think about not dragging the kids all over again, and that maybe they'd be better going to the same school there in Hawaii," said Snyder, who then decided to leave the kids with their mother.

He says his intention was to find real work, not just a trade, and then bring the kids back when he was settled.

"When I left, I left her my vehicle and my place," said Snyder, "everybody was in school; she had a job, and so I thought it would be good."

It wasn't.

Not long after, the children's mother lost her job, lost their place to live and simply took off.

The four siblings were left with nothing but each other.

"I was pretty scared at first," said Jake, "because I didn't know how I was going to eat or where I was going to sleep."

The siblings, who all say they didn't like each other before, banded together and did what they needed to do to survive.

"I went in the bushes, set up a tarp, put a little air mattress down, and that's where we stayed," said Jake, who bunked in the tent with younger brother, Joey, while oldest brother 'Z' and sister Emily slept in the van their father had left them, which was broken down and immobile.

But they weren't alone.

Camped in those bushes along with them were other homeless children.

'Z' made some cash playing his guitar for tourists, while his younger siblings brought in money their own way.

"My sister and my other little brother, Joey, became like professional spangers," said 'Z', "they knew exactly what tourists to ask for money."

"But it wasn't always like that either," said Emily, "a lot of the time friends would just buy us something at McDonalds or something -- we didn't ask them."

As time passed, the crew says they became less scared, as they found strength in numbers and confidence in themselves.

"I started to realize that I could think outside the box, if you will," said Jake, "we learned how to take care of ourselves and put food in our bellies."

"There were days when I'd have to take care of my siblings and days where they'd have to take care of me," said 'Z', "but we survived."

But with transportation becoming an issue, 'Z', who was already a dropout, says it just became too hard for his siblings to be homeless and go to school.

They all dropped out, and the Snyder siblings found themselves without any sort of structure, which in the eyes of teenagers, wasn't always bad.

In fact, they all say there were good times on the street along with the bad.

"I'm not saying it was fun, but it's not one of those things that I'm going to look back and wish it was different," said 'Z', "it happened, and you might as well make the best of any situation."

Emily says she made her own friends, while Joey says he spent much of his time across town hanging out with the locals on the bay learning mixed martial arts.

They say fighting was a way of life there.

"It was kind of like Lord of the Flies," said 'Z', "but more laid back."

No phones meant no communication with their father, until the school called him in October.

"They told me they'd stopped coming to school and had no idea where they were," said Snyder, who was looking into a trade job in Cass Lake, near Bemidji.

Snyder contacted a security officer he knew in Hawaii, who was able to track them down.

"I was scared -- I had no idea what they were doing or what was going on," Snyder said. "I wish I hadn't left them."

Snyder wired money over to Hawaii for his kids to buy a cell phone.

Although he was then able to talk with his children, he says he was unable to afford airline tickets for either himself or his kids, so he began writing letters to numerous foundations asking for help.

The Salvation Army responded, giving the teens airline tickets to Minnesota, a place to stay while planning the trip and warm clothes for their much chillier destination.

The family was reunited in Minneapolis on Dec. 9.

Snyder, who spent part of his childhood in Fargo, was happy to be back in an area he liked and with the children he loves.

"They're all I have," said Snyder.

Right around that time, a Detroit Lakes man had responded to an online ad from Snyder offering one of his trades.

Jay Schurman of Schurman Photography is building a new studio across the street from Rossman Elementary School, and the property just so happened to come with a vacant, old house that needed remodeling.

Schurman says he and his wife, Leah, went to meet Snyder to see what kind of a guy he was and they were moved by his story.

"How could anybody say no?" said Schurman, who allowed the family to move in right away. "It'd feel good for anybody knowing four homeless children are off the street and back with their dad."

And while Snyder begins fixing the Schurman's old home, he also begins fixing their broken lives as well.

"I'd like to stay here," said Snyder, "when I'm done with this house, I'd like to actually buy or rent a house of our own here and really make a go of it."

The three youngest are now enrolled in the Detroit Lakes Schools, while 'Z' gets ready to join the job corps, possibly for either culinary or underwater welding.

And while the Shermans have been doing what they can to help make life a little more comfortable for the Snyders, others in the community are also pitching in to welcome them to Detroit Lakes.

Not only are members of the Lakes Area Vineyard Church collecting home items for the family, but Noah's Home Furniture in Detroit Lakes also donated some beds to the Snyders.

"We knew we could help them out because they said they didn't need much and they didn't need new," said the store's general manager, Adam Noah, "we just thought it'd be a nice way to welcome him into the community."

Although the Snyder crew is once again dealing with change, including some serious climate change, they all say it's been good so far.

"I get a good vibe here," said 'Z', "I don't know if it's just the holiday spirit, but maybe it's also because it's a smaller community and everything."

"It's good to be here in a stable house," added Jake, who is looking forward to trying snowmobiling -- if it ever snows. "I'm glad to be here with the holidays with my dad and back to school, too."