Without a Home Story - Father Dan

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NOTE: This page is a daughter page of: Without a home stories

IMPORTANT REDIRECT: These articles now all live on www.withoutahome.net - please visit there instead !
.... and buy our "Homeless on Haight book" !

Father Dan has never been homeless, but he is one of the most recognized and loved people in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood by both housed and homeless people alike. A warm and kind ally to every race, gender identity, sexual orientation and every minority group you could imagine, I was eager to have his story as the last story in our "Homeless on Haight" book. My first few encounters with Father Dan were seeing him in his clerical collar at Club Deluxe or another bar, drinking a beer and dancing, often with his lovely wife Kate. He was friendly to everyone and always said hello to me and any friends.

Only a year later, when I was interviewing homeless people in Haight-Ashbury for a book, did I realize that he was equally (if not more) loved and friendly to people living on the street. Regardless of your faith and position in life - poor or filthy rich - you will adore Father Dan. What's not to love about a beer-loving priest who talks to everyone and spreads a message of love? Several articles have been written about Father Dan, but I specifically wanted to ask him about his life journey and his thoughts on the homeless population on Haight Street.

Father Dan

Father Dan's Story

Thu, June 7, 2023:

Born: 1965 (57 years old) in Greenville, Michigan.

About: Father Dan is the most generous, liberal, and humble priest you could possibly imagine, and he feels gratitude for a terrific childhood. The youngest of six children, Dan grew up hunting and fishing on a beautiful eighty-acre farm in rural Michigan. It was a loving, church-going family where his father sold cars and his mother helped raise them all right on the farm. Dan took an early shine to his studies and felt the call to the priesthood as early as he remembered. However, he wasn't called to be celibate, so he left the seminary in his first year, got a degree in history, and went to work in clothing retail for fifteen years in Grand Rapids.

Father Dan didn't say this next part, but the story on the street is that he did very well in retail but sought out more meaning. At that point, he discovered the Episcopal Church and the call to ministry. He worked as a development director and fundraiser, then went to seminary, got ordained, and spent ten years in Benton Harbor, Michigan - a small city known for high poverty and crime - then six years in Flint - also known for high poverty and crime - and has now been in Haight for two years.

It really shocked me that Dan had only been in Haight-Ashbury for two years because so many people recognize him. Dan says he loves that every day is the same but different. He loves meeting the merchants, the homeless folk, housed residents, and even some of the tourists floating through. What makes Father Dan really incredible is that he intentionally spends much of his time walking his dog, Maggie, and hanging out on Haight Street, meeting people. He and his wife, Kate, are incredibly well known in the community. He says they felt really welcome and accepted early on.

Father Dan can often be found with a shot and a beer (his Michigan roots), hanging out in one of the local pubs or seeking live music wherever he can. When he first arrived in Haight, it was the tail end of the pandemic when you couldn't necessarily sit down to drink or eat, so he says it was a weird time to arrive. His interviews for the position of rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church in the Haight were via Zoom. As things have opened up he has enjoyed getting to know the local merchants better. He is also aware that many people have been damaged by certain churches, so there is often a mistrust of authority. He makes sure he treads lightly and listens.

At that stage of the interview, Dan showed me that he has a pouch that has dog treats and cigarettes as a simple but powerful way to break down barriers.

What brings you joy: "My wife, cooking a good meal, a beer, dancing... or seeing someone on the street you haven't seen for a while." We both reflected that it's relieving to see someone homeless who may have disappeared for a few months - just to see that they are still alive and doing okay. He said that paperwork is a drag, but that doesn't take much time. He loves all the other duties of ministry, and his congregation understands how important it is for him to be present on the street. He recalls the joy of seeing Smurf (Murphy) and Timbre leave then come back with a baby. Father Dan loves meeting people with or without homes who often have incredible educations and can have deep theological conversations with people.

What brings you hope: "The incremental, sometimes painfully slow steps that I see when someone from one group intersects with someone from another group in a positive way." He refers to the tensions that can arise between merchants and housed people with the homeless people hanging out on the street corners. "People are afraid of what we don't know, and we keep ourselves distanced from what we are afraid of, and I see that so much in this neighborhood - perhaps going both ways - and if we can just stop and take the time to engage one-on-one and make eye contact - those types of interchanges give me hope." Father Dan is such a fan of people who extend friendliness and believes it is such a huge healing quality. If we can just figure out how to make eye contact, it would be incredible. He also gets that as tall men, we might feel a little bit safer from other people to break out of our bubbles, but in Haight-Ashbury in broad daylight, this is a pretty safe neighborhood to take those steps.

What is the hardest lesson you've learned: "Learning to slow down... and not try so hard to get my way." I begged Father Dan to teach me that lesson. He says he'd rather be happy than being right, but that wasn't always the case. As he's gotten older, he's gotten better at letting go.

Something you are proud of: Father Dan is proud of many things. In his personal life, he's proud of his four amazing children, who are all fiercely independent. Professionally, he's proud of discovering the benefits of "a ministry of presence". Just being visible has amazing dividends, which often means tempering huge ambition. Instead of always "striving," he enjoys just being.

What tips might you offer someone newly homeless: "The most generous people tend to be the poorest." In the street mission in Grand Rapids, when someone came into the neighborhood, people helped refer others to resources. Ironically, the people who should feel scarcity the most can be the most generous and will help others learn how to survive and where to find what service. In Haight-Ashbury, some humility and generosity go a very long way. Father Dan likes to ask both the homeless and "upstairs people" (those with houses), "Why do you hang out here?" The answer is because of the history, because this was the nexus, there is still a vibe here, and this is where their friends hang out. "Folks lucky enough to have houses can invite them into their living room. If you are living in a tent or vehicle or SRO or sleeping in a doorway, where do you hang out? The intersection of Haight and Ashbury." Making friends with the regulars in this area bodes well to help combat loneliness and have more people to help lookout for you. That applies regardless of your housing status.

What is your vision and your aspiration in this community: "It really goes back to breaking down those barriers." Unless you've been here pre-1967, one should get a bit of a sense of the history of the neighborhood and what it's like now. If you move into this neighborhood, you are moving into a place with hippie culture in its veins, and he wants to help people embrace that. In one way or another, "everyone here is just trying to make it." Father Dan encourages everyone to take that little risk to look someone in the eye - maybe not at 2 in the morning, but at 2 in the afternoon - and you just might meet someone who brings a bit of joy into your life. If you always have earbuds on and your hat pulled down, you can effectively amplify loneliness in what is already a loneliness pandemic. It's so easy to be lonely in a densely populated area. What can bring us back to humanity is just a smile.

That is where the interview ended, and I was so excited that I recorded the whole interview on video because it let me be present instead of madly scribbling notes. Father Dan then took me on a great tour of the church - the "All Saints' Episcopal Church" on 1350 Waller St, which I also filmed. After that, we did the short walk to grab a muffuletta at Sandy's on Haight Street and then a couple of beers at the Gold Cane. You couldn't help but notice Father Dan knew everyone by name. He might ask about their kids or something else going on in their life. It's refreshing to see someone treat everyone the same. We stopped to give a cigarette to Oreo - a young homeless kid on a skateboard who I remembered from interviewing Tony B, who came up with a smile to get a couple of cigarettes. Father Dan chatted to a guy lying on the sidewalk with the same kindness and reverence as he did to a lovely woman and her kids who were passing the church. He also knew everyone in the bar, and we all made jokes about life. I apologized to Father Dan for saying "Jesus" a couple of times, but he said he really wasn't bothered and was known to drop the occasional profanity himself. Father Dan is wonderful in his genuine kindness to everyone and his relatability. He introduces people to each other, tells stories, but most importantly, he listens. He cares. I couldn't think of anyone else more fitting to end the book, and I'm excited to hit publish and show him the finished product.

Finished but not finished. I'm sure I will continue to edit the book, and I really hope this work will evolve and take on new forms. I most hope that it will inspire someone else in another neighborhood to write their own book... or at the very least, just be encouraged to chat with someone homeless and help bridge that gap.

Father Dan's Videos

If you want to see the full interview and church tour, they have been uploaded here:

Only when I watched the video of my interview did I realize that in our whole one-hour interview, I don't think he once really used the word "God". Imagine that. Father Dan doesn't push the Bible onto anyone - he just wants us all to see the good in each other. Your religious belief isn't actually so important to Father Dan. He wants us to just believe in each other.

Father Dan on camera - full interview.