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.
“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.”