Lenny Gertken, Street Pulse salesman

Posted on April 24, 2013


Lenny Gertken lived with his fiancée, Michelle, until three years ago when she died of cirrhosis of the liver. Since then, he sleeps anywhere he can, typically outside around the Capitol Square.

While hawking copies of Street Pulse on a recent cloudy Saturday afternoon on State Street, Gertken, 47, says the past few years have been tough. He would love to have a place to live but says the money he earns selling Street Pulse, a newspaper produced by homeless individuals, is not enough to pay rent.

Gertken’s eyes light up as a man wearing black sunglasses and a Green Bay Packers hat approaches. It’s Dale Bourgeois, a former homeless man who now visits his friend Gertken frequently.

Bourgeois says he found a permanent residence in Middleton through Porchlight, which provides essential resources to homeless people in Madison.

But Gertken has not been so lucky. His thick Carhartt jacket is his best defense against the cold winter nights. He says the shelters in Madison have too many problems with bugs, so he would rather take his chances outside. But that, too, has its problems.

Gertken says he has been approached by intoxicated young adults during the night.

“Get kicked on the foot, you don’t move, and all you here is zip,” Gertken says. “And they pee on you.”

Despite the hardships, Gertken says he is blessed to have his friend Dale, who visits him almost every day.

— Franco LaTona