Fortitude housing

Michelle Nagozruk’s new house key sits on the counter of her new apartment in Kankakee, furnished for her and three children with the help of Fortitude Community Outreach.

KANKAKEE — This past weekend, Fortitude Community Outreach helped an individual and a family move into apartments. With the help of volunteers and community donations, both apartments were completely furnished and supplied.

Dawn Broers, executive director for the nonprofit, put out a sign-up sheet for requested items for the residents and requests were quickly filled by the community. Items included bedding, cookware, cleaning supplies and furniture such as end tables and lamps.

“Pretty much every sign up that we put up, if our guests need anything, it’ll be primarily filled within 12 hours,” said Broers.

The individual who moved into one of the apartments is a Kankakee local who had been staying off and on with Fortitude for this whole shelter season. Broers said that the man was living in his van and, last fall, he was attacked and his van with all of his possessions were stolen. He was taken by ambulance to the emergency room and lost the little housing that he had.

The man stayed between Fortitude and another shelter, and when he left staying with Fortitude he had a steady income.

“And that’s really what they need in order for us to help them actually get a place — either a full-time job or a steady income, say with disability or something like that,” explained Broers.

Because of that steady income, Broers was able to help him find a place for rent on Facebook Marketplace. Throughout the next week, they and the landlord were texting back and forth in the hopes that the man would be the one out of 300 applicants to get the apartment.

“Our guest really impressed [the landlord] and we were advocating for him, the landlord chose to allow our shelter guest to rent the place,” said Broers, who explained that Fortitude assisted with rental income, which is one of the biggest barriers in a guest acquiring their own residence. Fortitude helps make sure the guest has enough money for the deposit and first month’s rent upfront along with everything they might need to buy with a new place.

The second residence Fortitude helped set up over the weekend was for a family of four. Michelle Nagozruk, the head of the family, had saved her stimulus checks and had the money available for a new apartment. She found the place on her own, but she and her family had no possessions to furnish it. Fortitude helped the family move in and helped them obtain requested items from donors.

Nagozruk shared that everything went well during move-in and that she and her family were settling in fine.

Broers explained the criteria for assisting someone with moving into a place of their own is not only based on steady income and deposit, but also the need to sustain the rental payment each month. She expressed that getting an eviction on one’s record can be really destructive to them down the road.

The two bigger shelter agencies in town — Salvation Army and KCCSI — receive federal funds to help with housing assistance, which can help go toward the first month’s rent and deposit for a resident. Where Fortitude comes in is to help supply needed items for the apartment.

That was a gap Fortitude began to fill years ago. When a guest would get into an apartment, maybe the Salvation Army helps with rental assistance and then Fortitude would help furnish and supply the place. She said that the community is “very, very happy” to donate items.

“This isn’t about Fortitude really, we just see ourselves as a link between the community that wants to help people and the people that need the help,” said Broers. “So a simple thing like creating a sign-up and a place for people to bring the items so that they can be delivered, we’re just the connector there.

“For me the celebration really is that we have a community that’s so willing to help out,” she continued. “It’s just that community coming together in little ways to make a really big impact for some of these lives.”