Evanston’s Human Services Committee tabled a proposed homeless shelter licensing ordinance Wednesday night after Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said the proposal “needs some more work.”
Some neighbors living near the Connections for the Homeless shelter at the Margarita Inn have been attacking Nieuwsma for his support of Connections’ plan to buy the former hotel and permanently maintain what it started as an emergency homeless shelter there during the pandemic.
The opposition intensified after a shelter resident was arrested last week for aggravated battery to a police officer and after police reports were released indicating shelter staff has repeatedly refused to admit officers to the building who were investigating complaints unless they have a warrant.
Nieuwsma, whose ward includes the Margarita site, said it took five tries for the city to get a commercial vehicle parking license pilot program done right, and he wants to make sure the shelter licensing ordinance is done right too.
“Everyone agrees that homelessness is a problem and we need to do something about it,” Nieuwsma said, adding that over a decade ago a city report called for adding transitional housing beds for both individuals and families.
“The city needs to live up to its values of inclusivity and equity,” he added, “but we’re going to have to do it right and make sure the community is on board and comfortable with the arrangement.”
He said the shelter use needs strong city regulatory oversight for the needs of its residents and neighbors to be met.
The city oversight, he added, needs to address staffing ratios and security obligations.
He said that he also wants to see a “good neighbor agreement” developed — an idea he said Connections officials suggested.
He said developing that agreement would involve Connections hosting small group meetings over the next few months at the Margarita to be followed by a larger neighborhood community meeting in September.
That, he said, would establish mutual expectations and reporting channels.
The shelter use will also require special use permit approval by the City Council, and Nieuwsma says he wants to have adherence to the good neighbor agreement made a condition of the special use.
Nieuwsma said it could be “toward the end of the year” before the City Council acts on a special use permit for the shelter. Connections, he said, has not yet submitted a zoning application for the permit.
The committee did not set a date for resuming its discussion of the licensing ordinance.