Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) told residents at a community meeting Sunday that their concerns about a homeless shelter at the Margarita Inn will be addressed.

Nieuwsma said a memo listing community concerns is being prepared and will be sent to the city zoning administrator reviewing the application of Connections for the Homeless to purchase the hotel.

The non-profit has leased the hotel at 1566 Oak Ave. for operation as a shelter since early in the COVID-19 pandemic and with the purchase of the building plans to make the shelter operation permanent.

Nieuwsma says he expects city staff to make a decision on Connections’ application — and what conditions should be included if it is approved — by the end of the month.

During the afternoon meeting at St. Mark’s Church, Interim Police Chief Richard Eddington said disturbances have generally increased around the city during the pandemic, but the Margarita Inn has been an outlier. 

“Unfortunately, the Margarita Inn is leading the league in the amount of time and effort being focused on it,” Eddington said. 

Officers have been assigned to proactively patrol the area to de-escalate situations before they can begin, the chief said.

betty-bogg-connections-20190801-img_7768
Betty Bogg.

“The thing we haven’t done well was being proactive about our neighborhood outreach,” said Connections Executive Director Betty Bogg. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d fix that because we’re incredibly proud of the work we’re doing on behalf of the community and I wish you all knew more about it.” 

Bogg said that since the pandemic began the group has served more than 180 people at the Margarita, and 68% were Evanstonians. 

Connections began to seek ownership of the Margarita Inn after receiving a zoning violation from a city inspector in February.

Bogg said they had a few options, but felt ownership was the best route to maintain their current services. So the group applied to maintain the “rooming house” status the inn already had. 

In response to neighbors’ concern about disruptive behavior by shelter residents, Bogg said, “There’s still a communal cost if someone isn’t staying in a shelter. People don’t evaporate if the shelter goes away.” 

Bogg said she wanted to repair the divide between the shelter and its neighbors.

“I’m not here to tell you nothing ever will happen,” she said. “I’m here to tell you that if I know about it, we will respond and do everything in our power to prevent further harm. We are here for the community.”

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7 Comments

  1. This meeting did not address our concerns. It made them worse. If Connections is looking to repair the divide with the Community, they should not have fast tracked their application and, in doing, so, given neighbors little to no input or notice.

    I also would like the writer of this article in to include the statement by the Chief of Police which included the language “to date there has only been assault and battery but no homocides.”

    Connections also, inappropriately, conducted the meeting by showcasing certain members of their community and their plights so that, ultimately, neighbors could not validly express their concerns without being shamed as anti-homeless and heckled.

    A most unfortunate meeting handled with the least regards to neighborhood concerns. Many people would not have chosen to live near this type of establishment and they have their rights as property owners, and should be respected. We will lose considerable value on our largest investment, which will effect my family and what we will be able to give our children.

  2. My wife Alex and I applaud the efforts of Connections to help those in our community most at risk, even while acknowledging those living close to Margarita Inn will bear a disproportionate cost. We want to thank those in that area that accept that reality and hope to likewise make the necessary sacrifices when it’s our turn. Yes in our backyard. Otherwise, it never gets done and we all suffer the sad consequences.

    1. Had you been at the meeting you would have known that this is not about the homeless but about the misuse of zoning ordinances. Classifying this facility as a “Rooming House” without the oversight, controls, and safeguards ensured by zoning laws for homeless shelter is inappropriate.

      Also, of those being housed at the Margarita Inn only 68% are Evanston residents; less than half of those served by Connections are Evanston residents, based on the Connections handouts. How many Evanston homeless are on the waiting list? Should they not receive preference? Connections stated they are soliciting money from other municipalities to support their cause. Evanston should not bear the entire weight of North Chicago’s homeless.

      As additional shelters are established throughout Evanston those neighbors, perhaps you, will be glad for the zoning oversights we are trying to ensure.

  3. Norman F., I had similar thoughts after attending Sunday’s meeting. It was long on sentiment but short on the planning and coordination Connections for the Homeless and the City of Evanston need for a permanent homeless shelter.

    We need transparency and deeper information to find the best solution to this issue. For example, with a large permanent shelter, can the city absorb the impact to police, EMT, mental health and social service resources? Does Connections have the capacity to operate the shelter? It serves 52 communities, per the 2020 report on its website.

    At Sunday’s meeting, Police Chief Eddington showed statistics that Evanston police responded to 393 calls at the homeless shelter at Margarita Inn in 2020-21. He made clear the calls were a strain on police capacity.

    The essential questions about the shelter were unanswered at the meeting. More discourse is needed to presents facts, not feelings. Adequate time is needed for the community to think, analyze and contribute. This issue has far reaching effects for all of Evanston, and the process should not be hidden or fast tracked.

  4. Residents of the area have been railroaded and are being presented with a done deal. This should not happen in Evanston. The YMCA seems to be able to house individuals without creating problems in the neighborhood but the residents at the Margarita don’t seem to have the same respect for the neighborhood.

    1. Linda Baum, The YMCA does a terrific job managing their residents and property and enforces their long-standing policies. They understand how to do this, do it well, and are a credit to the neighborhood. This is also the case at the YWCA.

  5. This is not about the homeless but about the misuse of zoning ordinances. Classifying this facility as a “Rooming House” without the oversight, controls, and safeguards ensured by zoning laws for homeless shelter is inappropriate.

    Also, of those being housed at the Margarita Inn only 68% are Evanston residents; less than half of those served by Connections are Evanston residents, based on the Connections handouts. How many Evanston homeless are on the waiting list?
    As additional shelters are established throughout Evanston those neighbors, perhaps you, will be glad for the zoning oversights we are trying to ensure.

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