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Beloved homeless man becomes center of controversy in sleepy town

Bruce Gertz has been subject of controversy as homeless resident

LAKE ORION, Mich. – There has been controversy brewing in one Michigan community all summer, one that has brought heated debate and passionate voices. 

The source of all the debate is a homeless man, 65-year-old Bruce Gertz, who has been as known of a figure in Lake Orion, a northern suburb of Detroit, as any school, business or park.

That in itself is the root of the debate.

Some don’t mind that one bit and have embraced Gertz as one of their own for nearly two decades. Others are bothered by it and are uncomfortable having him be such a visible fixture in the community. 

But it looks like there will be a happy ending to end a summer full of controversy.

Community fixture

Gertz has resided in Lake Orion for almost 20 years and has moved a lot in the process, although we’re not talking about moving from house to house.

Instead, Gertz has moved from bench to bench or from street corner to street corner. He’s lived in the area for two decades as a homeless person, now residing on a bench in front of a strip mall along a busy stretch of road near downtown. 

Every day, many come up to him to offer money, meals from restaurants, basic everyday needs or just conversation.

Gertz said he has never married or had kids and lived in an apartment before starting his life on the streets 19 years ago.

“I used to work at a lot of small machine shops over the years,” said Gertz, who graduated from nearby Oxford High School in 1972. “Little by little, they were outsourced to Canada or Mexico. I went from one shop to another and then simply ran out of work.”

Gertz said he has three siblings who live out of the state but has no contact with them.

With Gertz at all times is a radio, an umbrella to shade him from both sun and rain, a bike donated to him by a local bike store, a jacket, a garbage bag and two thick Bibles. 

There is a Facebook page dedicated to him called Bruce of Orion, where people can post updates on what he needs and how people can donate money to help put him up in a hotel during the frigid winter months. 

Quiet but polite, Gertz is accommodating to people who want to chat with him.

Through his radio, he keeps up on current events and is sympathetic to issues plaguing others around the country and world.

“I just hope for the best for everyone, period, with the way things are going,” he said. “There’s a lot of crap going on all over the country and even environmentally with earthquakes and other stuff.”

Those who support Gertz laud his good nature and feel he hasn't bothered anybody while living on the streets.

But there was increasingly vocal opposition to Gertz and what some residents feel is a negative image he is portraying on the community.

During a July 8 meeting, Ray Hammond, a member of the Lake Orion Village Council, said he was worried that tolerating Gertz and public camping could lead to more homeless people moving into the community.

“So, not to be hard-hearted, but I think the village needs to take action on this before this individual either expands his zone or gets some companions,” Hammond said in the Lake Orion Review. "That’s my position on it. So, I’d like to see something move forward on that. A plan of some sorts.”


Pledge of support

That plan became a lot clearer Friday, when the Lake Orion Village Council said that it intends to read a statement of support for Gertz during a meeting on Monday, according to the Bruce of Orion Facebook page. 

The Facebook page posted that Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh and the Village Council have been discussing how to assist Gertz by getting Social Security benefits for him and a place to stay at night and during the winter. 

August 26th Lake Orion Council Meeting Update – I spoke with LO Police Chief Jerry Narsh today. The Village Council has...

Posted by Bruce Of Orion on Friday, August 23, 2019

Hammond’s comments in July originally brought both criticism and praise from people on both sides of the issue on chat forums online, including on the Facebook page. 

Nicole Curtis, a star of HGTV’s “Rehab Addict” and former Lake Orion resident, tweeted her support of Gertz.

Gertz said he doesn't hold any ill will for community leaders who considered moving him.

"No, not at all," he said. 

Now, it appears that the council doesn't have any ill will toward him.

Do you think Gertz should be allowed to stay where he is or forced to relocate? Let us know in the comments below. 

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.