Betty Bogg. (Jeff Schultz photos)

The operators of the Margarita Inn homeless shelter sought Wednesday night to recruit neighborhood volunteers to help draft a “Good Neighbor Agreement” for the site’s operation.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) told residents that the proposed agreement would be layered on top of a city special use permit and license for the shelter.

But at the session at the Unitarian Church, some residents residents questioned the feasibility and merits of allowing Connections for the Homeless to buy and continue to operate the property at 1566 Oak Ave.

The hotel was turned into a homeless shelter early in the pandemic when the health risks of traditional overnight-only shelters with many people sleeping in the same room became evident.

The Good Neighbor Agreement would be designed to establish shared standards of conduct and avenues to address public safety concerns and other issues, beyond standards established in the special use permit and license.

“Staffing ratios, operating hours, program requirements, security requirements: those should be a part of probably the license agreement, and if not the license agreement, then the special use permit., Nieuwsma said.

The GNA, he added, would provide “an outline of the community’s expectations of Connections that are not otherwise captured in the license or the special use. And I think the important part of this is establishing communication channels.”

Betty Bogg, executive director of Connections for the Homeless, said communication among stakeholders should be a major component of the GNA.

Meeting attendees passed around clipboards and signed sheets volunteering to work on the GNA.

Peter and Mary De Jong.

Peter De Jong asked whether Margarita Inn residents could participate in negotiations between Connections and stakeholders.

“Let’s acknowledge the importance of the residents of Connections, the residents of the Margarita Inn. It really boils down to them to make this work,” Nieuwsma said. But he added, “My reaction is Connections has a seat at the table. [They] are representing the needs of the residents.”

Renee Moses.

Renee Moses wanted to know how Connections decided whether to expel residents from the Margarita Inn for violating rules.

She asked, “What will be the criterion for keeping someone in [the Margarita Inn] if they misbehave?”

“Rules and regulations and operating procedures — currently the city does not have authority. We don’t have a license in place because this was put together on an emergency basis. And here we are trying to get some structure in place if this does move forward,” Nieuwsma said.

“So operational requirements such as staffing, et cetera, start with the city’s license ordinance, and then get passed down to the resident via the resident handbook, which may bring in some other requirements.”

Mary De Jong.

And in response to several meeting attendees saying that Connections has not been adequately responsive to their concerns and input around the Margarita Inn, Mary De Jong said that the organization deserves credit for its efforts.

“The worse thing is everybody is kind of jumping on Connection, saying, ‘This,this,this” and ‘we have all these problems’ but we have seen over the years the difference that they have made,” De Jong said.

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10 Comments

  1. Congratulations on the dedicated people behind this endeavor.

    I hope a proper permanent home is found for this enterprise, because The Margareta Inn is not the correct building or neighborhood.

  2. I have been watching this situation evolve as a long term 4th Ward resident. Contrary to certain rhetoric being said, I believe that allowing Connections to remain in the Inn will create a tent city in the middle of downtown. I have heard the opposite viewpoint at various discussions, including listening sessions, and the statement is erroneous. The presence of Connections, in conjunction with the methodone clinic, soup kitchen, and church basement shelter, and the other services our city so generously provides has become a beacon for the homeless. Homelessness, crime, and panhandling have, by all metrics, increased since Connections has been in the Inn. I would have liked to hear honest report long from Connections after all their community listening sessions, but when they claimed no increase in crime etc in their written literature, they lost all credibility. Unlike the Y, which has criteria for residents, the Margarita houses anyone regardless of sobriety or criminal history. This makes me uneasy, as the nearly 80 persons living in the Inn are currently are a mix of drug addicts, whose addictions they are not required to reckon with, as well as criminals. The neighbors are also familiar with the remarkable increase in police visits. We are also aware that Connections refuses to work with local police under the “Homeless Bill of Rights.” We have seen them turn Police away at the door numerous times. The neighbors cannot be judged for wanting to feel safe and secure. The neighbors most immediate to the shelter are the ones who must be part of the GNA. They have the most at stake. The many people I know in the immediate vicinity feel that that the possibility for a GNA was abandoned long ago, as Connections has only show disregard to the neighbors. They even, in the press, shamed the neighbors publicly. In summary, the location of this is detrimental to the City, and the provider has lost credibility in the neighborhood. Certainly, it is important enough a matter for the new City Manager, as well as the Mayor, to slow this down and handle the problem of the homeless with deliberation and skilled planning. Just because the building worked as an emergency measure during the pandemic is not indicative of its appropriateness at this point in time.

    1. You’re not kidding! Yesterday, my 15 year old and his 3 friends went out to Potbelly’s around 3PM and sat down in Fountain Square to hang out. Which is its intended purpose: a public meeting place. But soon after they sat down, a *fight* broke out among a group of 5-8 adult men. “I think it was a drug deal,” he said, “because I saw someone hand a lighter and bag over.” He showed me photos of some of the group and the police who soon came. “One was being choked up against a wall.”

      Great! Fantastic! What’s next, a Fountain Square shooting? This is exaggeration… but if it actually happens, it won’t be. 3 years ago, fighting and drugs in Fountain Square also would have sounded like exaggeration. But now, apparently, it’s not.

      I don’t know if the rise in crime, drugs, sleeping rough, and other incidents downtown can be directly attributed to the Margarita, but there sure seems to be a correlation. Whatever the cause, it’s time the City stops ignoring the fact that downtown is becoming a place residents dread. Now my son and his friends will be coming back to our house from now on. Clean it up for our kids, Evanston. This isn’t safe.

  3. Why do I think the terms “Connections for the Homeless managing the Margarita Inn” and “gaslighting” might be connected?

    Until the last six months, when the possibility of CFTH purchasing the Margarita was floated, Connections blatantly ignored/discounted any of their Fourth Ward neighbors’ concerns…

    Now that the purchase is a possibility, Connections has launched a “charm offensive” – or perhaps a more apt term is “charm barrage” – to convince us that they are really truly sincerely deeply honestly genuinely “interested” in our “input” regarding a “Good Neighbor Agreement”…

    The highly – touted recent “Listening Sessions” were apparently curated by – wait for it! – Elena Navas-Nacher – who, per their site, is listed as a CFTH Board member:

    https://www.connect2home.org/board.html

    Why does this whole saga remind me a wee bit of that ancient fable of “The Scorpion and the Frog”?

    Or is it *me* that is “missing something” about this whole process?

    IMWTK!*

    [*Inquiring Minds Want to Know]

  4. Ok, I am stuck on the questions about what happens if a client does not follow the rules or “misbehaves.” These are HOMELESS people, who are more likely than not, suffering from PTSD. Clearing the people posing these questions have never been Homeless before. Unless the person is a danger to others or wacked out on alcohol or drugs, I would never recommend kicking ANYONE out of a shelter. All humans, have the right to find safety and assistance, within the confines of a shelter. Kicking a Homeless person out and putting them back on the streets, could lead to their rape, murder, addiction to even more drugs (if that is the case), and or death, due to the elements. Please learn about what you are speaking about before you suggest these things. This is not expelling someone from school. This is more like expelling someone from society, and taking away their dignity.

  5. Look at the police reports- they show that a lot of dangerous things happen *inside* the shelter itself. Yet, the CFTH refuses to allow police to enter the building. CFTH evicted an arsonist who was setting fires inside the building and he lived in the Rose Garden for several weeks. People like myself, who are long time tax paying residents now fear that the people evicted will be wandering around our backyards. You cannot speak about taking away dignity, but not mention taking away our safety.

    1. One of my major beefs with the Margarita is that it’s not a “clean and sober” living environment, per the CFTH Margarita “Shelter Handbook”, drinking is allowed, and surely drug use might be present, too. A good shelter has strict – but reasonable – rules for their guests to adhere to, upon entering the shelter, they’d sign a “participation agreement”, i.e. a contract, holding them responsible for following basic rules of conduct. And these rules need to be *strictly* enforced, or you are ***out***. By doing this, you weed out the “users” who just want a free place to hang, from those folks who are serious and committed about improving their lives and are willing to adhere to a structured program requiring routine and accountability. You have to do this “triage”, otherwise you are wasting limited time, money, and resources on those who have no intention of improving their lot in life. The Margarita – or any shelter – only has a limited number of beds, you have to realize that you cannot “save everybody”…

      All of us have to abide by basic rules in life, it should be no different for the homeless, otherwise we are just enabling their failure…

      Alcohol use by Margarita Inn residents is allowed per the CFTH “Shelter Participant Handbook”. A copy of this is on public record (as presented to the Evanston Land Use Commission meeting on 05/11/2022), and the complete Handbook (along with the accompanying meeting record) can be found on pp. 103 – 149 at this link below (PDF):

      https://www.cityofevanston.org/home/showpublisheddocument/71473/637874314253300000

      City of Evanston – Land Use Commission – Wednesday, May 11, 2022

      ‘Connections For the Homeless – Shelter Participant Handbook [Revised 01.15.2022]’

      H. Alcohol + Other Substances [page 7]:

      “ALCOHOL IS ALLOWED IN THE SHELTER but may only be consumed in your room. At no time is open alcohol permitted in any common area, including the hallways, Courtyard, or anywhere outside on the shelter property. Non-prescription substances that are illicit/illegal are not allowed anywhere in the Shelter, including in individual rooms, or on the property…”

  6. Unfortunately, CFTH makes all its money from following HUD criteria governing low barrier housing. This means they require the least amount of “barriers” for a person to get housing. If they start instituting sobriety as well as not choosing people with violent criminal pasts, they will likely lose their funding. This is also the reason behind their refusal to work with the police. So, in order for Connections to continue receiving tax dollars, the neighborhood has to accept a high concentration of people who have all kinds of instability, including criminals and drug addicts, with no requirements and no oversight.
    If they start instituting rules like the Y, they will not get the County funding they currently use. This is why Ms. Bogg refuses to follow any recommendations to date to accompany neighbors.
    The city does it have to accept this. We are another family looking to move. We do not feel that the City has a vested interest in maintaining the nature of the Ward, though, and with a recession on the horizon, we are hoping to be able to sell our property without a severe loss.

    1. Thank you for mentioning the public funding issue, as it is “the elephant in the room”. Any HUD (or government) – funded shelter facility *must* be a “low – barrier” facility to ensure that funding flow. As you mentioned, the Margarita Inn cannot enforce a “clean and sober” regimen for their guests, as that would violate HUD funding rules. Government – funded shelters also are required to take those with criminal records, even serious felonies. So, the Margarita has a mix of homeless folks who would really benefit from a sober living facility, along with “user” crowd who are simply there to party, and thus be disruptive, with no intent of improving their lives. Very tragic, as the Margarita Inn could be a real beacon of hope and an asset to our community if not for these onerous funding “necessities”…

      A privately – funded shelter can enforce a sobriety regimen, and also carefully screen for criminal records. This was the case with Lincoln Park Shelter in Chicago (also the Salvation Army and other faith – based facilities), and this was a model interim homeless living facility. Guests were subject to random alcohol and drug tests, no disruptive behaviors allowed, etc. It was structured living program, designed to get homeless folks “up and running” in life, the final goal was to obtain self – sufficiency and stable permanent housing. They had a 90% success rate, thus the neighborhood welcomed and supported Lincoln Park Shelter… needless to say a very robust “Good Neighbor Agreement” was in place, and the first priority was neighborhood safety and security. Unlike the Margarita Inn situation, this was a “win – win” for all affected…

      Connections follows the “do no harm” model of social work, meaning that no shelter guests can be *required* to follow reasonable rules – everything is a “negotiation”, this in order to not “traumatize” any of their homeless clients.; it is based on “feelings”, not reality. This is in contrast to the “carrot – and – stick” or “tough love” approaches that really do get good results. The results of the “do no harm” and “trauma – informed” models of homeless services we can see on the squalid streets of Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, NYC, LA – and make no mistake, it is coming right here to Evanston…

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