A circuit court judge has delayed the resumption of an Evanston Land Use Commission hearing on the Connections for the Homeless special use permit to continue operating the Margarita Inn as a homeless shelter until April 26.

Alan Didesch, an attorney for neighboring property owner Cameel Halim, says Judge Neil Cohen Thursday granted his client extra time to prepare for the LUC hearing, which the city had proposed holding next Wednesday.

Didesch says that at the Thursday hearing before Judge Cohen an attorney for Connections sought to intervene in the case and to have the court injunction calling for a continuation of the hearing dismissed as moot.

But Didesch says that after Cohen said it might take as long as six months to reach a decision on the request to dismiss the injunction and that during that time the injunction likely would remain in effect, Connections withdrew its request.

The Land Use Commission had voted 5-3 on Nov. 30 to recommend that the City Council approve the special use permit for the homeless shelter, after the city’s legal staff told the commissioners they were not obliged under their rules to grant Halim’s request for a continuance.

But Judge Cohen, Didesch said, ruled that the right to a continuance was guaranteed not only by the city’s zoning code, but also by procedural due process protections of the state and federal constitutions.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. As a donor for Connections, as well as an attorney, and someone who is still on the Connections email list, I am very disturbed by the recent turn of events. I am particularly dismayed by the public statements that Connections released, by email and website, naming Halim and his businesses, when the lawsuit is a case between the City and Halim. They dismiss his legal right to be heard in court fairly as a chance for him to “air his issues.” I would not be so cavalier when a person’s legally protected right is being infringed upon so drastically that they have to resort to seeking a Temporary Restraining Order in chancery court against a municipality. This is no joke, and the fact that the judge ruled twice in favor of Halim speaks to the severity of this case. Until Connections abides by the same laws that all parties are subject to and stops currying favor with politicians, I will no longer consider giving them any money. I urge Council Members and lawmakers to recognize this behavior as improper. It may be politically beneficial to “support the homeless” and therefore support Connections, however the law applies to all, even Home Rule Cities and non profits organizations.

    1. As a former Connections employee, I can honestly state that their executive management team is strictly “Amateur Hour”… they think the world is some sort of playground for their toxic Social Work School class ” experiments “…

      It’s akin to putting a bunch of toddlers in charge of running a nuclear reactor – and just as dangerous…

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident and Margarita ” neighbor “

  2. I too have decided to discontinue my financial support of Connections for the Homeless, mainly due to the way they have conducted themselves regarding the Margarita Inn. From pandering to our biased elected officials, to steam rolling their Evanston “neighbors” with a bogus good neighbor agreement, Connections has proven to be a ruthless, heartless, and rudderless entity. They have sadly lost sight of their original true mission.

    Perhaps the restraining order and deserved delay in the Land Use Commission meeting granted to Mr. Halim will allow Connections to revamp the good neighbor agreement and involve more legitimate stakeholders versus Connections donors, board members, employees, and neighbors who don’t even live close to Margarita Inn.

  3. I appreciate the comments here and from people, like me, that have always supported Connection’s mission…..until now. I am so dismayed at the underhanded tactics and blatant steam rolling of the facts. The “Good Neighbor Agreement” does not have any signatures from any adjacent property owners. It goes way beyond the Halim’s who seem to have to fight this on their own but what about the businesses right around the corner on Davis Street, did they sign? I am sure this issue did not help Smylie Bros. business which closed. What is the Judge that is hearing this case understanding about the law that is being dismissed by the Mayor and elected officials or Corporation Counsel of Evanston? It seems that a Judge is doing the work of our own city government.

  4. Why did it take a court order ruling for a wakeup call concerning Connections and our city mayor and councilman Jonathan Nieuwsma have been deceiving us the whole time. It’s time that Connections, and city elected officials be held accountable for their actions.

    1. I don’t get why the alders / mayor don’t simply LISTEN to the immediate neighborhood. The neighbor reports are not based on fear or racist hysteria about the future. They are REPORTS of things that have actually happened, both inside and outside of the building. This feels a lot like women complaining about being harassed at work, but management refusing to fire the people responsible; instead, they just make everyone attend sensitivity training workshops. Corporate BS that won’t change a thing. I’m getting the same vibes from upper management – I mean, the city government.

      1. A group of us 4th Ward residents and immediate Margarita Inn neighbors met personally with several Alderpersons to discuss our concerns. They had the integrity to meet with us and listen respectfully – they did their due diligence as a duty of being elected officials. We might not have swayed their views, but it meant the world that they engaged with us…

        Where was our 4th Ward Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma…??? Nieuwsma has not even acknowledged my many phone calls and emails to his office…

        According to those who have met with him on this matter, “His mind is made up”…

        Yes, it is *very* frustrating…

        Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident and Margarita Inn “neighbor”

  5. I used to look endearingly at the Margarita Inn. The various flags of the world proudly waving out front suggested cosmopolitan sophistication. Then I started reading stories like the one about the homeless masturbating police-assaulters (e.g. Daymeon C. Shelby) that live there. Oops – “unhomed”.

    Then I read that Connections for the Unhomed recently paid council member Devon Reid’s rent when he was facing his 2nd eviction. And it just made feel bad for the families that live near the Margarita Inn and glad I don’t live there.

    1. Before 2020 I saw several nice families at the Davis L station, asking for directions to the Margarita Inn. These were folks visiting their kids who had just started at Northwestern. I’d walk them down the block to the Margarita, proudly pointing out Bennison’s, Lemoi Hardware, Gigio’s Pizza, etc., touting the “friendly small – town feel” of that area… one kind family even included me in their later dinner plans, we met at Cozy Noodles and Rice. One nice lady told me, “You should work for the Evanston Chamber of Commerce…!!!”…

      All that, sadly, seems from “prehistoric times” now…

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident and Margarita Inn “neighbor”


    We own a unit in an 80 unit cooperative building located across an alley and within 500 feet of an establishment known as “Connections”. Connections is trying to obtain a special use permit to allow the former Margarita Inn to be operated as a homeless shelter on a permanent basis. We have attended several meetings and read numerous comments relating to the proposed issuance of the permit by the Evanston City Council.

    The written comments following several articles in Evanston Now – which are almost without exception in opposition of the issuance of the permit – are well thought out and make numerous cogent points. Most of them are made by those who live in close proximity to the proposed shelter, as we do. While we do not feel the need to repeat all of these in detail, we do not want our repetition of them to be taken as a lack of support.

    It should be noted some of the observations do merit emphasis and further comment:

    1. The location of the proposed shelter is entirely inconsistent with the surrounding neighborhood. We live in this neighborhood which is composed of family residences, schools and small businesses adjacent to the downtown area. That commercial area is doing a credible job of reinventing and improving. This was best pointed out by the former Evanston Chief of Police at one of the Land Use Commission meetings. He observed the inconsistency of placing a homeless shelter in the vicinity of a new theater project which the community has worked tirelessly to attract and establish. The question remains: Will people from neighboring communities utilize the complex and nearby rehabbed businesses and restaurants to spend hundreds of dollars given this situation?

    2. During the cooler weather, Connections residents pound on doors and windows of our building and entreat some of our older residents to allow them access because Connections has locked its doors during the nighttime hours. On a number of occasions our building engineer has found them sleeping in our laundry room.

    3. Connections takes in many who are not native or who have not formerly lived in Evanston. This may help to run the numbers up to secure more financing, but charity doesn’t seem to began at home. These numbers or percentages are not as transparent as they should be. It makes the populace wary. What other numbers or statistics are Connections shading or failing to share with our community?

    4. Those in charge of the Connections operation don’t live in the neighborhood or even our city. It is difficult to believe them when they go on record as stating they are interested in the good of the community – Its not their community: its ours.

    5. Both the mayor and our ward alderman have gone on record as being in favor of awarding the special use permit to Connections before all of the public output has been heard and without addressing the concerns voiced by many. Our alderman, who resides some distance from Connections and therefore, albeit presumably, has little or no interaction with its residents, worked with Connections on an “agreement” which would facilitate the issuance of the permit. As far as we know, no “neighbor” has signed said agreement merely the mayor in that recent photo op.

    We urge all residents of Evanston and, in particular those in the 4th ward, to review the comments of people who have taken the trouble to comment on the issuance of this special use permit. If you are disturbed by the attempts to “steamroller” this permit through, please contact the appropriate elected city officials including City Council members. Do write your thoughts and otherwise make your feelings known.


    Lewis D. Clarke and Deborah Wuellner-Clarke

    1. An excellent summation, many thanks to you…!!!

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident and Margarita Inn “neighbor”

    2. It’s very frustrating that city elected officials are not listening to their constituents. We are having a similar issue in the 5th Ward. Our community is trying to stop the development of a 44 unit affordable housing building. The immediate neighbors to this development had no clues whatsoever this was happening until another neighbor from the next block alerted us to the meeting of LUC. If it wasn’t for her we may have not had a chance to voice our cencerns. It’s tiring and frustrating that people with money just want to come in and take advantage of social problems and make a buck.
      Some one suggested these homeless be given a tent to pitch right in front of mayor’s front yard. I think that would be fantastic.

  7. I live next to the Margarita and have noticed both the police and ambulance entering/existing the Margarita with one of their clients on the stretcher 90% due to drug overdose and small percentage had actually died from overdose. Remaining 10% from fight injuries. I had always inquired from the EPD officer if it was another overdose or a fight for confirmation. Am I the only one noticing Connections clients waiting outside waiting for a car to pulling up observed them reaching inside the passenger window and leaving with no food deliveries but rather drug transactions like a drive through window. If so. Please make notes of times and type of vehicle and immediately call EPD concerning the drug transactions. Naturally doing a follow-up with the chef of police our mayor and councilman of reporting this matter. Truthfully, St. Mark’s church doesn’t help with the increasing amount of homelessness because of providing meals. They are sleeping in Alexander Park, on the church premises congregating on church steps located on Grove. Now with warmer weather around the corner. I’m very confident that clients of the Margarita and their associates will be congregating in front and immediate vicinity of the Margarita. I have noticed a single mother with her son waiting in front of the Margarita on the school bus taking her son to school. She’s a client of Connections staying at the Margarita. I can only imagine what kind of harassment and mental stress including fear from those with mental health illness and drug addiction with all the excessive loud talking leading into verbal threats ending into fights. Make Connections a homeless program for single mothers

  8. Mayor Biss stated local business supports the Connections move but he can’t name one business in the vicinity that supports. I guess bold-faced lying to the community is what he means when he writes long letters about living our values.
    And denying a citizen their legal rights, requiring a court injunction, must also be part of Biss living his values. Our mayor’s actions speak louder than his empty words.

    1. Let’s get all the facts both pros and cons regarding the Margarita situation. Putting the faith of Connections/Margarita in the hands of the Evanston residents by having a special elections concerning this dilemma. This is the only fair way in deciding. Infact, it’s the right thing to do for all of Evanston residents

  9. Not sure how connections can recover from those self inflicted wounds without a new business plan, not talking about a neighborly agreement here. They totally overplayed their hand throughout. In retrospect they created this thing only for fund raising purposes, choosing a loud name that flagged them in the neighborhood. I suggest that they start by dropping the ‘homeless’ in Connections. They have to stop taking exclusively ‘paying’ participants from far far away and concentrate in Evanston. If they can do that the Margarita should continue on Oak. Halim agenda is to block the existence of a shelter next to his business, period, but adjacent buildings are plain ugly everywhere you look, left, right, across. at the corner. This was not a fancy neighborhood when he built his building. He cant always win. He needs a hair cut.

  10. To start, I want everyone to have a roof over their head and a warm place to be. But the idea and process of placing a homeless shelter, and frankly that means substance abusers, in the middle of a residential neighborhood and just half a block away from the many great stores on Davis Street has been deeply flawed from the start. I would like to see a poll done by the store owners and the neighbors on this proposal. If most people want the shelter at the Margarita that’s great. But I doubt many in the neighborhood embrace this idea.

    1. About the substance abusers – I think that’s true with a “low barrier” shelter. By Nia’s own admission, 50% or more have alcoholism / drug addiction. The Margarita doesn’t require that anyone seek treatment to stay there.

      I would love to know more about success rates of high barrier shelters. I’m guessing that no drugs and alcohol are allowed in a high barrier shelter, nobody with a criminal history is admitted, etc. This would make it safe for the neighborhood, and more importantly safe for struggling FAMILIES, especially single moms and children, to stay there.

      Right now the Margarita is NOT a safe place for women or children. I’m anxious about what’s been covered up inside that building… nobody knows because they don’t let the police in.

      1. Good points, Katherine! I’ll make a few comments:

        – Lincoln Park Shelter in Chicago was a “high – barrier” shelter when I was familiar with it some years ago. There was a ZERO – tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol; anyone with an addiction issue was *required* to be in treatment. It was made clear right up front to potential guests that this was the policy – “If you want to use, this is not the place for you… however if you want treatment we will do everything we can to assist”; all applicants as part of the shelter entry process were required to undergo drug/alcohol testing. Once in, guests were subject to random drug and alcohol tests. Many guests successfully went through treatment programs, and thus addiction reduced and lives improved. This is the opposite of the “do no harm” policy that Connections adheres to – that “do no harm” policy actually should be re-named “do GREAT harm”, as it enables addiction…

        – Lincoln Park Shelter – which was privately funded – had a 90% success rate in stably housing their guests. Guests were required to complete a structured program, with goals, in order to get housed. And because LPS offered continued case management and worked diligently with landlords and service providers, these folks *kept* their housing…

        When I worked for Connections, the single *worst* thing IMO about the Margarita was the drug and alcohol use by guests . Allowing addicts to continue their bad habits in a residential shelter results in an absolutely shambolic atmosphere – any good done is negated by the bad behaviors of the addicts, and it encourages sloth, as no guest is required to *do anything* to get ahead…

        Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident and Margarita Inn “neighbor”

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