The Peacebuilding Busker

November 8, 2012
Brandi Friesen Thorpe |

Let me introduce you to today’s spotlight peacebuilder . Every night he heads out to the streets of Osborne Village in Winnipeg, Manitoba, takes out his guitar, lights a candle, and sets up for a night of busking.

Born in Saskatoon and raised in a church, this peacebuilder grew up next to plowed fields, wood sheds and video game basements in Minnesota. Both of his grandfathers, as well as both of his parents are musicians. He calls his brothers everything from luthiers to cellists to songwriters, and adds himself to a long line of musicians with pride. He is working his way through welding school by busking, and has become a peacemaker while he does it. He a is man with dreams, and his name is Dan Loewen. This is his story, as he shared with me.

“A normal day busking for me..... I set up at the Graham and Vaughn bus stop around 11:30, introduce myself, and start playing my guitar. I know some of the people that take the same buses each day, and I have friends that live on the streets in downtown. They’ll come by ... to talk for a few minutes, share food and water, and then [it’s] back to playing. I get requests all the time, everything from ‘Jars of Clay’ to ‘Nirvana’.”

“At about four or five, I’ll walk back home... Between nine and ten I'll set up again by my friend's hot dog stand in the Village, set up a candle and sage, tune my guitar and start the night. I play for about five hours, until three in the morning. It gets crazy fast, as I know most of the people who live on the street in Osborne. I talk with them, figure out what’s gonna happen to who according to whom. This is where Peacebuilding comes in.”

“I've known my street friends in the Village for a few months now, and I can act as a mediator for the conflicts they face. Being out on the same street as my friends who live there, I understand what happens. I’ve had to stay a few nights on the street, and though I am not homeless, I have experienced enough to know. It is hard to live on the street - most of the important people in your life have turned on you and have stopped supporting you. Your family doesn't trust you anymore. You don't get enough sleep, because your bed is a park bench. You don't get enough to eat, because you can never afford any food. You have nothing to do all day, so you get bored fast.”

“Usually ending up on the streets happens to you for a good reason. Most people I know that are legit street people have a very good reason for having to live there. Some people have a past tied up in gang violence, while some have crippling addictions or mental illnesses. Some are on the run from the law, their spouse, or the last person they ripped off. These are people with secrets and dark pasts. There is far more to a hobo than a lingering smell.”

“[People on the streets] live in conflict, because they live in anarchy. The police will not protect street people when there are regular citizens around. The state exists to protect property, and will not protect you when you don't own property. Any street person can do almost anything to another street person without the law getting involved. I try to mediate conflicts that I know of. When I hear about potential fights, I find one of the people involved, and stick around until we can work out a solution. I have taken people in for a night, talked down a screaming man with a knife, stopped three or four fistfights in progress. I make it clear that I am not on anyone's side, but violence is not the answer. I do everything I can to make sure no one gets hurt. There have also been plenty of situations that were totally out of my control and I could do nothing.”

“I try to bring peace to people who are partying in the bars on the street. I’ve comforted the crying with a song and a hug. I've listened to the drunken rants of a hundred frat boys about their classes or girlfriends, their newly bought hot dogs or their new tattoos. Most people who are out at the bars every weekend aren't bad people, just lonely. I try to be there for a good conversation for these people.”

“My faith has been impacted [and] my faith in humanity has changed quite a bit. I get to see a very generous appreciative side in everyone that donates change. My faith in divine providence has been strengthened every day. My conception of who God is has changed as well - everything I get out on the street is unexpected. When I think I need money for phone minutes, I get a coffee from a stranger. When I pray for money for rent, I get a gig at a skeezy north end bar. When I think I need to buy food, someone invites me for dinner. Things work out, but it seems to all work out sideways. I guess that’s the way that God has worked historically. When Goliath needed to be put down, God didn’t send in an army, He sent a shepherd.”

Want to hear him play? Want to hear more of Dan’s story? You’ll find him busking by the ‘The Toad’, one of the bars in Osborne Village. Stroll by and stop to request your favourite song, ask him a story, maybe you’ll get to experience a little of the Dan Loewen life.

For a video clip, click here:

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