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.

Richard Eddington.

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.”

John Cleve.

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.

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.

Nick Cummings.

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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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18 Comments

  1. “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…”

    Betty Bogg needs to ditch the squishy feel – good “social work talk” and get very, *very* real. Allowing rampant substance abuse in a residential shelter setting causes nothing but disruption, dysfunction, and heartbreak. The resident Margarita Inn addicts need to be given the boot, as they cause an inordinate amount of trouble for the other shelter guests, the Margarita staff, and the public at large. Connections for the Homeless is enabling failure; the Margarita Inn IMO is *not* a “safe space” (I worked there). And yes, there is “research, research, research”, all quite lavishly funded by the Homeless/Social Work Industrial Complex – and then there is good old – fashioned “common sense”…

  2. So Betty Bogg- if teenagers just rebel more when parents enforce boundaries should we just allow them to do whatever (fill in the blank) but remind them there’s a social worker on the corner if they’d like to chat? I hope people stop giving money to Connections. No more annual gala tickets, raise the paddle, etc. We can’t vote Bogg out of her job, but we can make a statement by refusing to financially support this place.

  3. Publicly stating that abstinence only programs are not effective in curbing addictive behaviors is a horrible and inaccurate statement to make about those struggling with recovery.

    As far as substance abuse at a homeless shelter, it strikes me as a no-brainer that the rules should prevent alcohol and drugs on site. Especially important when men/women/children are packed into the same facility.

    The “worse alternative “ threat asking if we’d rather have the homeless residents drinking in public or in their rooms is already a harsh reality. Check out the front of the post office, Sherman in front of Epic Burger, or the entrance to the Alcove Restaurant on Maple and you will likely see public drinking of Ice beer or brown liquor in big bottles or at least the aftermath (trash).

    And yes, it has been verified on more than one occasion that some of these individuals are residents of Margarita Inn.

    Connections needs to support those with addictions using all tools available, beginning with a ban on alcohol and drugs on site.

  4. All of the efforts at rewriting the ordinance is an exercise in putting lipstick on a pig. During a time when the Margarita Inn has known that the eyes of the community are on them, they have demonstrated that they are a horrible neighbor and an irresponsible, unresponsive business. The whole point of this process is to make them a permanent feature of downtown Evanston despite the fact that they have shown themselves to be a net minus to the people who live there, work there, and have set up businesses there. Once they get the license, there is no way to enforce meaningful, minimal standards of conduct and there will be no easy way to get them out. We have sunk millions of tax/TIF dollars into downtown Evanston to make it a great place to live, work, and shop. Our leaders seem poised to set all that on fire for this project. Sheer madness.

  5. Is there a population that could be served in the margarita that would not push back against a drug and alcohol free facility? There must be many other people who are in need who don’t have violent criminal records, drug additions etc. Why do they need to house the hardest people to manage? It seems like the wrong location for this demographic, when a different group of people, who also need help, could benefit.

    1. I think it’s about the money. My understand is: to get federal funding, they have to be a ‘low barrier’ shelter, which means they HAVE TO take in people with addictions, criminal backgrounds, etc. This is probably the reason they can’t solely focus on Evanston people as well. Greg Morrow probably knows, but maybe that’s why they take in so many people from outside of Evanston.

      I’m assuming Connections needs this money to own the building. That seems to be their main goal. Owning a facility may make sense, but I just don’t understand why they don’t have a plan B location. Connections seems to want this particular location to the point of desperation, but they’re getting so much opposition, from both residents and business owners. Shouldn’t they have created alternative plans by now? It just seems smart to do so.

      Plus, people from all wards in Evanston come to downtown, so it impacts everyone who goes to the post office or Bennison’s. Of course they’d get more opposition than usual. It would make much more sense to me to put the shelter in a place that’s not going to directly impact an area Evanston has wanted to revitalize.

      1. Well, if this happens, the people going to Bennsions will be visiting another town.
        I overheard Jori’s son saying he’s getting ready to move if Connections buys the building.

    2. Hi Nikki, I’ll try to address your point, as it is an important (and somewhat confusing!) one:

      Per the Federal HUD “Housing First” policy that Connections follows, they are required, for funding reasons, to accept anyone and everyone, whether they are addicts, have criminal backgrounds, severe mental health issues, and the like. So the Margarita Inn cannot refuse to house these people, HUD would see this as “discrimination”. Neither can they require their Margarita guests to address any of their addiction or physical/mental health problems; neither can on-site alcohol/drug use be banned. This renders the Margarita Inn a “low barrier” shelter, e.g. most anyone can stay there. Connections is also “cagey” about disclosing this information, as they assume that the general public is not much aware of the elements of this HUD policy…

      A “high barrier” shelter OTOH can choose not to accept those with addiction issues, serious criminal backgrounds, etc. They can operate as a “clean and sober” facility, ban drug/alcohol use, and require guests to address their issues via recovery/mental health/workforce programs. However, these stringent and higher standards would make them ineligible to receive HUD or any other public funds. So “high barrier” shelters are operated primarily via faith – based organizations (Salvation Army…) and private entities who have private funding. A “high barrier” shelter would be the (formerly) privately – funded Lincoln Park Shelter (at 600 W. Fullerton in Lincoln Park, Chicago). They could refuse to house addicts, the very serious mentally ill, or those with serious felony backgrounds. The screening process to get in was quite involved, similar to a very intense job interview. If you were accepted in, you had to sit down with a case manager, craft a structured plan with goals towards improvement, and then sign a “User Participation Agreement” aka a contract – and adhere to that contract. You could be dismissed from the shelter if you failed to follow through with your plan (or for violating basic “house rules”). You had to be seriously committed to improving your lot in life, the end goal to gain housing; you could not just “sit around”. As a result, Lincoln Park Shelter had a 90+% success rate in stabilizing and then housing their shelter guests. They also had an exemplary “Good Neighbor Agreement” with their neighbors, it was transparent, and Lincoln Park Shelter was very pro – active about being a good neighbor, thus they had enthusiastic support from the Lincoln Park community, especially law enforcement, the alderperson, and the business community. It’s a successful model that all transitional living homeless shelters should follow, as it’s a “win – win” for everyone all around…

  6. Follow the dollar:Connections gets LOTS of money from the multi-billion dollar social services industry for “butts in beds,” not addressing the core behavioral issues. “Housing first” is lipstick on a pig.

    There are now many peer-reviewed studies of the failure of “housing first”. These studies should guide Evanston’s approach to all of the hundreds of people in shelters in Ward 4.

    Wards 4 and 1 residents, EPD and fragile local businesses are the daily “rehab” team interacting with people who have been kicked out of other facilities over and over because they won’t adhere to treatment, with no consequences.

    Why should we residents suffer betty’s irresponsibility? Are we getting paid to manage her clients day in and day out?

    She argues that she is not responsible for what these temporary guests do to our immunity when they are off premises.

    We need to understand why J Niewsma has continually borrowed Connections talking points including threatening “you’ll have a tent city if you don’t have Connections. Baloney – we need to clean our community of the ugly behavioral vagrancy that is experienced 24/7 in Evanston.

    People who have failed years of free social work, mental health care, medical care, housing, laundry, meals….should not be thrust on our community just because Connections needs to make more money for butts in beds. Some people just take and take and take from society. There has to be a limit and consequences.

  7. As a black man, I found the comments made by the last speaker perjorative and offensive. I watched this meeting online and tried to play it back to make sure that I heard her correctly. Black men do not need to be rescued. Black people do not need women like this standing up for them. They abuse their racial priviledge with their self righteousness. What is unacceptable in the white community is unacceptable in the black community. We do not have lower standards. We need allies in the white community, but we do not a white woman shaming the public for not wanting criminals next door to them in the name of Helping Black People. Connections is organized by a group of white women who will not work with the police. No family wants to live next door to a flop house for criminals, druggies, prostitutes and people hollering at all hours. Black people want nice things. Black people want safe houses. Black people want to take our family to dinner and go to the movies and not have our children walk by people shouting at their feet and carrying on and needles in the alley and drug deals. I see white people coming in and out of Connections building all the time and the same white man stinking up the corner in front of bennisons. Do not equate the Black community with what is going on in that building. Connections has brought all kinds of craziness to the fifth ward and they will do the same to the downtown.

    1. Well said! Thank you.

      And for the record – this is a copy of the text I sent to Evanston 311 on October 9, 2022. One of the men I am referring to in this text was (not anymore) a resident at the Margarita Inn run by Connections. He now panhandles in front of Starbucks for the last few weeks. Our politicians should listen to community more than Connections.
      Here was my text to 311:

      Can cameras go up on street corner of Davis and maple
      This am at 7:40a I actually saw a drug deal in front on bennisons. I understand that it was for personal use and not distribution so even if police saw – not much they can do. I was right there looking at the two guys saying good morning when it happened.

      1. Cameras are a great idea! We laid out at 12 point plan to improve security in evanston. Cameras at all businesses is one of our requests. Before I bring my family to any store or restaurant in Evanston, I want a view of the front.

        If I see vagrancy or indecency, I’ll shop elsewhere (usually Wilmette, Skokie or Andersonville).

        There is no reason we need our families to experience the awful behaviors, like the charming heroin addict who hangs out in front of bennisons, Starbucks and other businesses.

        After 20 years, We are looking to get out of here. Sad, because we have volunteered for so many activities in Evanston. There are many EvanstoniNs fed up, but afraid to speak up.

        1. >>>There is no reason we need our families to experience the awful behaviors, like the charming heroin addict who hangs out in front of bennisons, Starbucks and other businesses.

          He’s more into crack/speed vs heroin. He buys his Choreboys to screen out any pollutants (!??!) from the Davis Pantry.

  8. Glad to see the community sticking it to Connections. I recently moved away from immediately living next to that nightmare and being able to see inside of it on a daily basis for over two years. What a joke.

  9. W. D. I just viewed the meeting and am dumbstruck by that ignorant white woman’s comments. As a white person, I am confoundedly embarrassed. NOT for my whiteness but for her profound ignorance in her statements and efforts. I applaud your response and hope it may open eyes of MANY woke “seeming’ Evanstonians.
    White people, including our Evanston Mayor and City Council can not solve perceived racial inequity, nor should they be purporting to do so in their shallow veils of “DEI” efforts.

  10. Hi everyone reading, if the former chief of police’s comments don’t strike you or hit you or impact you, you are not listening. This issue is huge, impacting all of Evanston, and setting a precedent that I do not think this city wants to be recognized for. Listen up, pay attention, and voice your concerns with your elected officials!!!!

  11. How does the City accept that they admittedly house violent criminals but will not work with the police?
    Not one person in their right mind would find this acceptable.

  12. The Margarita is actually is located in the Illinois Drug-Free Zones due to children near by,parks and Roycemore School. I live right next door to the Margareta and have observed a few clients of Connections staying at the Margareta waiting outside of the Margareta on a vehicle to which they make a score getting their fix on drugs and quickly run back inside the Margareta. There has been many drug overdose at the Margareta. So who’s responsible for the safety of the children in the neighborhood especially if a drug deal goes bad. Combined the drugs/alcohol consumption is a major cause of arguments escalate into a fight or overdose. Betty Blogg, constantly reminding the community that they have an on-site nursing staff and licensed mental health professionals to help residents address their addiction issues. No one will addictions rarely admit that they have a problem nor need or want help. Especially when they are living rent free spending their SSI/Social Security benefits includes the side hustling by panhandling all 9n their addictions. The city requires the zoning that they can impose legal and stricker regulations monitoring Connections clients occupying the Margareta There are many of those that are homeless that really needs help in getting back on their feet especially reestablish their self-esteem and confidence in becoming a useful and productive citizen in the community. Then there are those who are completely happy and content constantly seeking for a free lunch with no responsibility. The Connections in combination with the city to implement a program that requires a written agreement contract with the participants wanting to get help with a safe and warm place to live while participating in constructive programming design to assist them getting a GED, learning how to write a resume and job mocking learning how to conduct themselves during a job interviews,especially mandatory drug/alcohol programs such as AA/N/A meetings. I’m confident that there are many Evanston residents that have been retired and more than happy provide their time by volunteering in assisting with job resume include job counseling provide assistance in job search. The city can also provide Evanston businesses in hiring those that are participating successfully in this program provide tax incentives. If the participants fail to comply with their written contract agreement they are asked to leave and will not be eligible for housing. This is also a good screening process weeding out those who are just seeking a free lunch providing chaos in the community. I believe the neighbors of the Margareta would not object to such a program. By providing such a program you will actually be saving someone’s life by assisting them finding themselves in reestablish their self-esteem and confidence being responsible and productive citizen within the community

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