Evanston’s Human Services Committee Monday night tabled a proposed licensing ordinance for homeless shelters for a month to give staff time to rewrite it.
Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), responding to extensive criticism of the proposal from neighbors of the Connections for the Homeless shelter at the Margarita Inn, called for the rewrite.
The version of the proposal presented Monday added the new longer-term, non-congregate shelter type to the section of the city’s health code that regulates overnight congregate shelters for the homeless.
Nieuwsma said he’s now concluded “it makes more sense” to instead regulate the new shelter format in the city’s housing code as a type of rooming house — based on the Land Use Commission’s decision earlier this year that for special use zoning approval it should be treated as a rooming house.
During public comment on the proposal, retired Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington said Connections “has a very difficult time enforcing rules and maintaining order.”
The ex-chief, who’s also a downtown resident, said the organization has used the homeless bill of rights as a shield to prevent them for enforcing any kind of code of conduct.
He said allowing that to continue would be counterproductive to the city’s larger goals.
Referring to the city’s financial support for Northlight Theatre’s return to Evanston at a site less than two blocks from the Margarita, Eddington said, “You can’t expect people to drop $200 for theater tickets, have them be harassed by panhandlers and expect them to come back again.”
Another neighbor, Jon Cleve, criticized Connections’ policy of letting residents have alcohol in their rooms. “It’s anathema to getting people in a position of stability,” he said.
Nieuwsma said a similar shelter in Oak Park does not allow alcohol, and said the city should consider that for Evanston.
But Ald. Devon Reid (8th) asked whether people would rather have shelter residents “consuming alcohol in the privacy of their own room, or have them standing out on the street and consuming alcohol there.”
Betty Bogg, the CEO of Connections, said, “We can provide research about abstinence only programs that shows they are not effective in curbing addictive behaviors.”
But she said Connections does not let those behaviors go unaddressed and has an on-site nursing staff and licensed mental health professionals to help residents address their addiction issues.
Bogg said the average length of stay of residents at the shelter has dropped from 10 months to 8.5 months in the last year and that a fundamental, mandatory expectation for people to remain in the shelter is that the are actively working on a housing plan.
City Corporation Counsel Nick Cummings said the city’s legal staff is working with counsel for Connections come up with a solution that meets the standards of the state homeless bill of rights regarding resident privacy while still having Connections maintain a list of residents that’s subject to inspection by police — as is now required of hotels and rooming houses.
The rewritten ordinance is expected to be on the agenda for the Human Service Committee meeting at 7 p.m. on Dec. 5.