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Disregarded: A life worth remembering

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – Earlier this year, The Press Times released its Disregarded series – a six-part written piece and a supplementary video produced in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay – which highlighted the state of homelessness in Brown County, through the eyes of those who were experiencing it firsthand.

One individual profiled throughout the series was a man by the name of Dan.

Pictured a handful of times throughout the series, often donning his furry hat and strumming his guitar – a skill he said he taught himself – Dan was never at a loss for words and always told you exactly what he was thinking, which was often colorfully accompanied by a four-letter word.

The 59-year-old Sturgeon Bay native told The Press Times he found himself homeless several times over the course of his life, but said when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the bottom fell out and things began to spiral.

When we talked with Dan last October and asked him how long he’d been homeless, Dan answered with “This time?”

He said when he first came to Green Bay in 2017, he lived in his car in the Walmart parking lot.

When winter came, Dan said he found shelter at the New Community Shelter, eventually moving out and getting a “pad” of his own in June 2018.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Dan said he lost his job, his apartment and his stability.

His acknowledged stubborn side and self-burned bridges significantly impacted his housing options.

Due to circumstances he took full responsibility for, yet didn’t go into detail about, Dan said he was not allowed to stay at St. John’s or New Community Shelter – which led to him calling the concrete slab under the pavilion at St. John’s Park in downtown Green Bay “home” for much of 2021.

Due to privacy, Dan’s specific location/status could not be disclosed to us, but we were notified that he was “housed” in some capacity throughout the winter.

Dan lived in the park shelter at St. John’s Park in downtown Green Bay for much of 2021. Josh Staloch File Photo

As journalists, the sources we connect with for stories can often leave a lasting impression on us.

The Press Times emailed and spoke on the phone with Dan a few times earlier this year, but hadn’t heard from him since the end of February.

Recently, we came across an obituary in the Green Bay Press-Gazette announcing Dan had passed away in April.

Dan had his struggles, but his “it is what it is” demeanor and clever insertion of his favorite four-letter word in all of our conversations with him, followed by an immediate “sorry, I have a bit of a potty-mouth” stuck with us – known to many involved in the series as Dan the Guitar Man.

We thought it appropriate to update readers of Dan’s passing, as the end of his story.

The obituary did not list a cause of death, but highlighted his love of all things arts and entertainment.

In last week’s Disregarded: An update piece, Paul Van Handel, the chair of the Homeless Outreach Team, said one of the 84 individuals listed as unsheltered in late fall did pass away since, but during the interview said it wasn’t as a result of being homeless.

However, because of privacy restrictions, Van Handel could not comment on whether the deceased person was or wasn’t Dan, or discuss what the person’s cause of death was.

The picture that accompanied the obituary and the pictures that appeared in The Press Times, look like two different people – showing the results of Dan’s years on the street.

The obituary stated Dan’s funeral was held April 22, and in lieu of flowers, the family encouraged donations to St. John’s Shelter or New Community Shelter.

Though Dan said he had worn out his welcome at them both, during his conversations with The Press Times, he always talked about how important both shelters were to him and the homeless community.

Everyone at The Press Times wants to send our condolences to Dan’s family on his passing, and though we only knew him briefly and during what is likely the hardest time in his life, Dan the Guitar Man made an impression that will last a lifetime.

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