Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma told a 4th Ward meeting Tuesday night that “the thought of shutting Albany Care down is on our radar.”
The facility, at 901 Maple Ave., is a residential and treatment facility for those with chronic mental illness.
Neighbors have complained for several years about panhandling, vagrancy and crime associated with Albany Care residents.
Nieuwsma told some of those neighbors at the ward meeting that the city is “continuing to build a case” against Albany Care.
He said while mental health facilities such as Albany Care are state licensed and regulated, “as a city we also have a license for long-term care facilities.”
Nieuwsma said the city has never pulled a license in a case like this before.
“It’s not a muscle we’ve ever flexed.”
Nieuwsma said, “If we pull that lever, we want to understand that if we revoke the license, can we force Albany Care out of business?”
The answer, Nieuwsma noted, is not certain, as state regulations and laws might override any city ordinances in this situation.
He said, “I’m not advocating trying to get it shut down, but we’re looking at it.”
One potential problem, Nieuwsma said, is that “if the place is shut down, where do the people go?”
There are only 23 such mental health rehab facilities in the state, and closing Albany Care could simply lead to more panhandlers on the street.
Nieuwsma said the Illinois Department of Public Health did put Albany Care on restricted status between October of last year and March of this year.
During that time, the number of residents dropped from 375 to 215. But now that the restrictions have been lifted, Nieuwsma said, “the head count is going back up.”
Nieuwsma did say the new Albany Care director has indicated the facility will not fill to its maximum capacity of 417 residents.
He added that even if Evanston does have the power to close Albany Care, the facility could tie that up in court with an appeal.
A better solution, Nieuwsma suggested, is to figure out “what can we do to encourage improvement short of pulling the plug.”
Albany Care is in the same ward as the Margarita Inn, which saw some neighborhood opposition as the former hotel was turned into a permanent homeless shelter.
However, Nieuwsma said, “the Margarita Inn will fade into the background of our community and no no one will know it’s there. Albany Care is a much more serious problem that will be around for years.”