5K To Help Tinley Park Couple Provide Housing For The Unrentable – Patch

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TINLEY PARK, IL — A local couple with big goals of assisting those in need continues to take steps toward their ultimate goal of closing the housing gap for those in difficult life circumstances.

Mike and Jen Fitzgerald of Tinley Park started the nonprofit Filling the Gap in 2018, aimed at helping those who might be in circumstances that deem it difficult for them to qualify for rental housing. Since its inception, they have established one rental home, and are currently raising funds for their second — one they hope will give women who need a second chance a soft place to land.

The Filling the Gap 5K set for Sept. 24 will raise funds to help the organization secure the additional property — to be named The Cypress House — in a to-be-determined location in the south suburbs. The run will kick off at 8 a.m. from St. Julie Billiart, 7399 W. 159th St. Early registration is $30, day-of is $35.

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“Our vision is to create an environment in the south suburbs of Chicago where residents looking to rebuild their lives can find a stable place to live,” their mission statement reads. “We look to bring together resources from the community, local government, stakeholders, and other non-profit agencies to increase the number of housing options available to this widely underserved population.”

The organization is geared toward giving its participants essential life skills to offset anything that has made renting difficult if not impossible for them in the past.

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“There are people that are deemed unrentable,” Jen Fitzgerald said. “Their credit is really bad, or they have a poor job history. They’re coming out of a recovery program, or prison, and no one’s really willing to rent to them. So our premise is to let them rent a space from us as they go through our transitional program.”

The organization works with trusted agencies to refer people they feel would fit the program. Anyone interested in joining goes through a thorough screening and interview process, Fitzgerald said, and they work with caseworkers throughout the two years they are eligible to remain living under the Fitzgeralds’ rental roofs. Their first property has so far housed two men, with the next intended for just women.

“We want to make sure we have a house just for women,” Fitzgerald said, “so it’s a safer place for them to be, especially if they have kids.”

The Fitzgeralds first came up with the idea after a family mission trip during which they spent time among the homeless of different communities.

“It turned our hearts a little bit, to notice those people in a different way,” Fitzgerald said.

After their return, Mike began assisting local people who are homeless to find housing, and saw firsthand the struggles they would encounter.

“We were trying to help them find a place to go, and every door was shut in their face,” Fitzgerald said. “There weren’t a lot of landlords that were going to take a chance on someone like that. How is someone going to get back on their feet without somewhere to land?

“That was when we realized the need.”

The program comes with “wraparound services” that give the participants support throughout the process, Fitzgerald said, and set them up for success both during the time they are with Fill the Gap, and after they leave.

“Giving someone a place to live, after a tragic part of life, a lot of times there are addictions involved, they miss a chance to learn those basic skills,” Fitzgerald said.

Mike and Jen Fitzgerald. Courtesy of Jen Fitzgerald.

As part of the process, the tenants must pay “program fees,” which go toward the expense of operating the residences, Fitzgerald said. In the two years since its recognition as a 501c3, two men have worked through the program, staying in their first property, The Sycamore House, located in Harvey. The first property was purchased entirely with cash donations, she said, which allows them some flexibility with program fees, to accommodate differences in residents’ financial status.

“If they make it through the interview, they pay 20 percent of their income as their program fee,” she said. “They put 10 percent in a savings account.”

They operate under the premise that someone needs about 30 percent of their income to go toward where they’re living. The program fees help set that standard.

“The beauty of the program fees, is it goes directly into the cost of the house,” Fitzgerald said. “The program fees cover the cost. If someone donates to us right now, for the most part, most of it goes toward the second property we’re trying to obtain.”

Their eyes are on securing a property for women in varying difficult situations.

“Since the pandemic, there are a lot of women who have found themselves in tougher situations, getting out of rough marriages, single moms, who can’t afford daycare,” she said.

Full-time physical therapist Mike Fitzgerald and Jen, who has a background in education, hope to be able to build this program into a full-time endeavor. They work alongside a well-rounded board of directors, including an auditor, another with a background in non-profit management, and a realtor.

Jen said they feel as though they’ve made it to the right place at the right time.

“We’re very faith-driven people,” she said, “and that’s kind of where we felt like God was leading us.”


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September 9, 2022 at 08:48PM

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