Feeling pressure to respond to growing public complaints about panhandling, Evanston alders Monday considered adding a social work component to a business district “clean team” contract.

The clean team contract, as described in a Monday Evanston Now story, will have New York-based Streetplus hire a crew of seven workers here to clean the city’s business districts under a one-year contract for just over $500,000.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) argued for adding up to $125,000 to the contract to have Streetplus add social workers to address issues of homelessness and panhandling.

Streetplus had offered what it calls “social outreach coordination services” as a $75,000 add-on to its program.

Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said city staff had not included that in the plan presented to City Council because when the clean team concept was being put together several months ago the city was working to develop an alternative mental health crisis response plan with Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare and council members wanted to focus on that.

The Trilogy program is now in operation, but, if anything, concerns about panhandling have increased.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said what’s needed downtown “is something different” from what Trilogy is expected to offer.

She proposed adding the $75,000 program proposed by Streetplus

But Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) suggested the Council should postpone action on the Streetplus proposal until its next meeting to provide time to hear from Trilogy.

And Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said the city should take time to vet the supplier before approving the social work proposal.

The council voted 3-5 to reject Revelle’s proposal to immediately add the social work component to the Streetplus contract.

But the clean team contract was approved on an 8-0 vote, and it appeared there was sufficient support for the social work component to have it come back for consideration at a future Council meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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34 Comments

  1. I was heading home from work yesterday and saw 4 panhandlers at the red light at Main & Ridge, one on each side. All their signs said they were “homeless”. They weren’t homeless, I’ve seen them with the rest of the Walking Dead at Gray park. I drive by there 2 times a day, every day. I know who they are.

    Make it illegal to panhandle. It’s the only way it’s going to work. It sucks but throwing money at social workers isn’t going to do much, we all know that. You can’t sing kumbaya, hold hands and think love & peace are going to fix everything. I wish that was the case but in a city of 75K+ sometimes, you have to be a jerk about things if you want to see results. That’s reality, time to face it Evanston.

    It’s time to start weeding out the walking dead roaming the streets of Evanston. Pick them up, pack them up and ship them somewhere else. We’ve had enough. I’m sorry that I’m not sorry.

      1. I think the universal basic income initiative is going to be the best way to combat panhandling. Like others have said courts have repeatedly struck down anti-panhandling measures on 1st amendment grounds. The only way to stop it is to provide an alternative.

        Maybe the city can bargain with panhandlers and offer a bi-weekly stipend equivalent to what panhandlers would be making begging during that time, with the caveat that they aren’t allowed to beg while receiving the stipend. As reported previously by the city, they know who these panhandlers are, and especially who the repeat offenders are.

        I doubt that it would be struck down because taking the stipend away if they start begging again wouldn’t be considered a punishment rather than denial of benefits. Maybe someone with more legal expertise could way in on that kind of option…

        I know how much of a sore spot government handouts and increased taxes are for some people, but surely they could be swayed on board if it meant not being harassed every time you go to the grocery store.

        1. The fault with this approach is—in nerdiest, fanciest terms—isomorphic to the N-Person Prisoner’s Dilemma, or more commonly referenced as the Tragedy of the Commons. If Evanston adopts a universal basic income practice for panhandlers, and no one else follows suit, then we’ve incentivized a lot of people to come here and take advantage of such a policy.

          Many folks are noting that there are numerous out-of-towners coming here now due to the perception that they can successfully obtain funds and services here. This has been true for as long as I’ve lived here, but the scale has grown since the pandemic.

          A UBI policy for this population would grow the population of those seeking that benefit, if that benefit is unique to Evanston. The same generalization can be made for this entire problem, as more lenient policies and attitudes contribute to quality of life issues in Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. There really isn’t a singular solution to the issue, as this is a national problem that is not entirely evenly distributed. What’s obvious here is that there are a lot of people in Evanston that feel their quality of life has been disproportionately affected by the issue.

          If enough of those folks avoid spending dollars in Evanston business districts, then the carryover effects for local employment, sales tax revenue, and general perception of the community all trend in a negative direction. I have no solution, but do not envy those who wrestle with this deeply thorny problem.

  2. I’m hoping this contract also addresses mental health support or referrals. I just went to post office and gentleman was having an episode spewing out obscenities and a mother and children were frightened.

  3. I agree with Frank!
    It’s pretty sad when you need to be aware and frightened to take a walk in your own neighborhood!!

  4. The clean team sounds like a fantastic idea, and as a tax payer I support it. I also love the idea of incorporating mental health/social work resources as part of the program. In many cases, individuals who are making pedestrians uncomfortable are experiencing a mental health episode. I believe at the moment the recommendation in these situations is to call EPD, but they don’t have mental health training and this is way outside of their job descriptions. Evanston desperately needs more “on the ground” mental health resources, contacts, and connections so this would be a wonderful new benefit to the community.

  5. It definitely is a major problem.I was told by a panhandler they make at least $50 a day. Why get a job. Wake up Evanston they even come from the West side of Chicago because they say Evanston is giving away money. That was from a group of 3 guys standing in front of Jewel. Stop giving to pancakes and give to mental health. We must make panhandling illegal in Evanston safety of elderly that shop and all people that feel afraid to go to a store in fear of being harassed.

  6. I agree w/ Frank, Titus, Trish, Aaron & Bessie:
    “The only way to stop panhandling is to ensure that it is not an attractive option.
    The demand will always be there. It’s a matter of cutting off the supply.”
    What Evanston is doing wrong is making it EXTREMELY attractive for panhandlers to thrive here. Adding porta-potties to the downtowns is just another incentive to attract more panhandlers. The council thinks the porta-potties will help the messed-up downtown situation??? It will only increase the panhandler base and thus decrease the safety to the citizens here who pay property tax to live and work here.
    $500,000 for a 7-crew “clean up ” team is $71k/year per person salary. That’s for what? to clean up after the panhandlers’ messes??? With 1/2 million dollars, surely we could hire a few more police personnel to stop the constant harassment by the panhandlers. Maybe when the panhandlers are ticketed for soliciting money from citizens, they can be assigned to do “clean up” duties as volunteers. Now that would be a Win-Win.
    All of the thinking by the Council sounds so wrong-headed and is aimed in the wrong direction.

    1. Regarding creating an infrastructure to support homeless in Evanston by providing convenient, desirable housing near the lakefront and downtown and port a pots, as the saying goes in business entrepreneurship ‘Build It And They Will Come…’ great job Evanston!

    1. I agree, walking into Jewel with the 3-4 people in lawn chairs and umbrella’s and the area smelling like cigarette and marijuana smoke is not inviting….

    2. Panhandling should be illegal. There are many services for those who need food, i,e., drop-in meal services every day in Evanston. I used to offer panhandlers gift cards to Subway/Jewel, etc…until I saw one guy on a corner literally selling them. I’ve been told “who cares what they use your money for, stop judging and just be a nice person.” If you’re cool with enabling someone’s addiction, cool, but I think that’s the easy way out. Give them $5 and feel good about yourself, but you help nobody but your own ego. And yes, I get it, the root cause of addiction is trauma, but around 80% of the folks we see need detox & addiction support services – not cash. And until that happens… Grey Park is a disaster (and has been for decades but is now much worse, since Covid), Jewel on Chicago Avenue is also a disaster, etc. Yesterday at Trader Joes a panhandler was in the store, wandering around, grabbing food, yelling at people. Last week I walked my dogs past multiple folks who are sleeping on park benches, one of whom decided to take out his “you know what” and urinate right in front of me, as in right in front of me so that I had to walk around the puddle he created. Nice visual – what if I had kids with me. Yes, I get it, the root cause is probably trauma but studying and discussing the root cause will not help the current situation. The city needs to ‘act now’. All the virtue signaling and blah-blah-blahing about root cause is why we are in the current situation. BTW those who live near Margarita Inn are not happy with how it’s going. The folks who are pushing to keep it there do not live nearby. Classic.

  7. Despite 3 years of pleas from Ward 4 and Ward 1 residents, city leadership has allowed street disorder and “defund police” activities to go way too far. I say this as a lifelong liberal, part of the LGBT community.

    We have little confidence that our city leaders are willing to put aside their career and political aspirations to address this mess. This was reflected last week, at the Ward 4 monthly meeting, when the alderman dismissed residents’ concerns with his response: “some residents are just more sensitive to (the street disorder).”

    We cannot use mental illness as a virtue-signaling excuse for the devolution of normal behavioral expectations. All are welcome to Evanston, but we should have clear expectations about behavioral expectations. Anything less reflects bigotry of low expectations and disdain for Evanston’s Mission and Vision: ”Creating the Most Livable City in America.”

    We need only look up north to Highland Park to see severe mental illness allowed to go unchecked, resulting in the death of innocent residents. Evanston suffers from a growing population of out-of-town people with severe mental illness acting out on our streets with frightening behaviors. When someone bangs their head on shop windows and screams “kill police,” then asks for a buck, should we give it to them? Or, should we be concerned?

    The ongoing influx of out-of-town and out-of-state bad actors to Evanston creates an environment in which we don’t shop or dine here anymore despite living 3 blocks from Fountain Square. We don’t know what to expect. Typically, we walk past piles of junk, milk crates, and addicts acting out highs and lows from booze and drugs.

    Sadly, our last neighborhood gathering focused on security systems to protect our families and homes. Evanston’s decline is gaining the attention of Chicagoland and national media. City priorities need to shift from climate change, topless Evanston beaches and more universal basic income…..to safety, sanitation, and business return. These are the primary functions of the leadership of a small city like Evanston.

    We need to make the bad actors coming to our streets feel unwelcome. Loitering and soliciting laws can be more strongly enforced if EPD is allowed to do their job. For once, it would be great to go to Evanston’s Jewel without navigating the gauntlet of out-of-town aggressive panhandlers and their piles of junk.

    For the foreseeable future, our family’s safety means that we will continue to heavily pollute the environment by driving from our home near downtown Evanston to have dinner and shop in Andersonville, Rogers Park, Wilmette, and Skokie.

    1. Yeah, tolerance is not – and should not be – the same as this permissive passivity. I get it, these aren’t easy problems to solve. But this slow erosion is like letting a whiny child get away with not brushing teeth at night. We’re seeing the results.

      Here’s what the ‘coexist community’ doesn’t seem to understand: just because someone is at risk, underserved, unprivileged, has mental problems, etc, does NOT mean that bad behavior should be tolerated. In anyone. Ask any Evanston public school teacher who has had a misbehaving special needs child in their class.

      Is it ok for a student to hit people because they have mental issues? No! “Hitting is wrong,” they’ll be told. “We do not hit.” Is it ok for a student to shout profanities in class because of emotional problems? No! “We don’t use that language,” they’ll be told. “That’s inappropriate.” Either the teacher will help the child behave in class, or remove the child from the classroom. Either way, the rest of the class isn’t expected to just grit their teeth and tolerate it as they try to get on with the business of learning. Not even in Evanston.

      Yet, if a mentally ill person from Albany Care shouts racist or sexist language as YMCA preschoolers pass by, we’re expected to just take it! Because ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘it’s not against the law!’ Evanston is so very good at turning the other cheek that it no longer can see what’s happening in front of it.

      1. Well said, Katherine and SM! Unfortunately, the trend in social work is the “harm reduction” model, under which people cannot be *told* what to do. There is no “setting of boundaries”, clients are absolved of any responsibility for their conduct. To expect people to conform to basic norms of conduct is “traumatizing”, “judgmental”, etc. Everything is “negotiated”. It is a very infantilizing and destructive philosophy, totally based on “feelings”. This is now how social work operates, thus the extreme dysfunction that permeates the Margarita Inn, panhandling issues, etc. “Harm Reduction” and “Trauma – Informed Care” are *very* harmful and destructive in my opinion.

        For example, 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). First, the statement about “Harm Reduction”, and following the Margarita’s rules concerning alcohol:

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

        CFTH “Shelter Participant Handbook” for Margarita Inn

        A. OUR PHILOSPHY OF CARE

        We work to end homelessness using a philosophy and approach that includes two evidence-based practices:

        HARM REDUCTION embraces respect, trust, and a nonjudgmental stance as essential components of an effective relationship. A harm reduction approach includes the following beliefs and practices:

        – Each individual is the expert in his/her own life
        – Individuals have the right to make their own choices
        – Any positive change is acknowledged and celebrated
        – Based in relationship building, honesty, and treating all people with dignity and
        respect
        – Emphasis on personal responsibility for behavior and separating behavior from
        the value of a person
        – Individuals have a voice in their care and treatment
        – Focus on reducing harm, not total abstinence from risky behavior, such as drug use

        […]

        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…”

    2. “All are welcome to Evanston, but we should have clear expectations about behavioral expectations. Anything less reflects bigotry of low expectations and disdain for Evanston’s Mission and Vision: ”Creating the Most Livable City in America.””

      That should be a sign when entering Evanston. Instead of saying “welcome to Evanston”. I would donate to whoever makes that sign.

  8. Agree that throwing money at “social work support” is worthless. Neither Connections (phone number on anti-panhandling signs that have been removed) nor Trilogy has done anything to help. When we have called for intervention with badly behaving people, both organizations have told us “we can’t do anything unless someone wants help.”

    Our goal is elevating quality of life by stopping the panhandling and street disorder behaviors. Our goal is NOT attracting ever more bad acting people from across the region and country to come to Evanston and plummet our quality of life. We can hire legions of social workers but they (and we) ultimately need police to intervene for the aggressive behaviors. We shared a list of a feasible tactics to address Evanston’s street disorder with the mayor and city council. They have expressed no interest in tackling this issue.

    1. Thank you, SM, you are spot – on with your comments!

      FYI Interfaith Action of Evanston now has an online petition supporting CFTH’s purchase of the Margarita Inn. Over 600 have so far signed. It would be great if a similar petition were available for those who do *not* want the Margarita Inn in our neighborhood (as it is currently managed). Managed responsibly, the Margarita could be a fine asset to the community, and a model of what an effective homeless interim housing program could be. But the current CFTH management is clueless – or unwilling – to implement a robust homeless services model that holds shelter guests accountable for their actions and progress via a structured program. Some guests have apparently been staying there for *years*, as CFTH apparently believes in “warehousing’ homeless guests in order to obtain funding (and yes, there is a “Homeless – Industrial Complex” that feeds off huge amounts of public monies, with little or no accountability for positive outcomes). I live right around the corner from the Margarita, and as I’ve mentioned here and elsewhere, there has been a definite uptick in “disruptive” public behaviors by the homeless, some of this obviously by Margarita guests. There have been *hundreds* of 911 calls involving the Margarita Inn since they took over the facility in early 2020…

      FYI here is a link to the Interfaith petition:

      https://interfaithactionofevanston.org/margarita-inn-petition/

      Margarita Inn Petition

      by Trey Cobb – May 19, 2022

      “…We believe all our neighbors deserve a safe, stable place to call home. The services provided by Connections for the Homeless at the Margarita Inn create the path to stable housing and a brighter future. Please consider signing this petition to support the purchase of he Margarita Inn by Connections for the Homeless to operate their Bridge Housing program…

      We also support municipal action to make this use of the Margarita Inn possible through zoning and other support as quickly as possible…”

      Click here to read and sign the petition:

      https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSccXK80JmT6CSKNWY4UtVJR_PBUJiEJIbiAEnwywtexY_FdnA/viewform

  9. Panhandling is protected by a supreme court ruling. That said, there are ways to mitigate panhandling, especially when people feel threatened by it…which is the main concern that continues to be the issue. For instance, The police can create solicitation zones due to public safety, other cities have done this and won in court (Coral Springs, FL). No Panhandling in certain areas of Evanston, select downtown street corners would be a welcome start.
    Evanston can also stop solicitation in front of stores and businesses, this includes panhandling. There are many steps to take to dissuade the panhandling lifestyle in Evanston…it’s not a good or beneficial lifestyle to support in my opinion. Google how other cities stop it…there’s a LOT of ideas and data…don’t be lazy Evanston officials….Google has answers for you 🙂

    1. Great suggestions! City Council always uses “our hands are tied” and “it’s happening all over” as excuses for addressing aggressive street disorder. If our city leaders lack the skills to innovate within rules/laws, we have the wrong people in office. The issue at hand is PRIORITIES. Currently, Evanston priorities are disconnected with our reality.

  10. Geeze, I would like to live in the Margarita Inn neighborhood myself, but I can’t afford it because I’m not homeless.I live in SW Evanston b/c that is all I can afford on my income. Something is out of whack here.

    1. Apparently the Margarita Inn (a former luxury boutique hotel) is quite nice. You get a private room and bath, three meals per day, a big – screen TV with premium cable, and laundry and maid service. And per Margarita Inn policy the homeless guests are allowed to drink in their rooms, and they can come and go as they please.

      There are apparently no time restraints on length of stay. Needless to say, this is all free for the shelter guests – us poor working stiffs should be so lucky to enjoy this nice “party lifestyle”, lol…!!!

  11. Panhandling does appear to be a growing and extensive problem across Evanston with no clear solution in sight. Personally, I can accept an occasional panhandler, but too much of anything is never good.

    This is difficult and delicate situation that of course is not specific to Evanston and has been going on for centuries. What makes it difficult is the intersection between civil rights of the panhandlers and individual preferences and personal safety of the passerby’s. Moreover, panhandling is often interlinked with homelessness, drug abuse, criminal behavior, mental health, and many other issues.

    There are hundreds of local, county, state, and national agencies out there ready to help individuals who are experiencing difficulty in their lives. Unfortunately their focus is not on panhandling, but rather the other areas noted above.

    So now what? Doubtful panhandling is going away anytime soon, so how does one handle the civil rights of the panhandlers and the safety, security, and peace of mind of passerby’s? The thing is, no where does it state one is obligated to make their interaction with an aggressive panhandler polite, courteous, and respectful.

    So what to do? Not ideal in absolute terms, but for now here are some very inexpensive tactics and quick fixes for the passerby’s that encounter an aggressive panhandler:

    A. There is security in numbers. Whenever possible, walk with a neighbor, friend, or even an occasional acquaintance. Try not to go it alone.
    B. If you access to a dog, take it with you. Any dog will do, small dog, neighbor’s dog, friend’s dog, stray dog, whatever. Dogs are a great distraction and do not like aggressive behavior. Dogs will almost always side with the handler to defer any threat.
    C. Bring a bright, flashing strobe LED flashlight. Flashlights are not threatening, but do illuminate things and attract the attention of others if needed. And yes, the newer LED flashlights work well even during the day.
    D. If you encounter panhandlers while in your vehicle, add some distance. When approaching an intersection, keep back 4 to 5 car lengths from the next vehicle. If they approach, simply move forward and avoid them altogether. They’ll simply keep walking to the next car in line.
    E. Contact the Evanston Police (even after the fact. We all pay enough taxes in this town, so go ahead and request that they dispatch a patrol officer to investigate. Unless one wants to file charges, personal information is usually not be required.

    Hope this helps, additional suggestions are definitely welcome, stay safe.

    1. RAF: thank you for your post!

      Your suggestions are the most depressing of all because they clearly communicate “we have given up, we live in a bad neighborhood, act accordingly.”

      We learned from EPD that a fair number of the bad actors on our streets carry knives. The only suggestions missing from your list are: 1) Carry something that can be used as a weapon for your personal defense, and 2) Videotape what is going on so that your alderman actually believes you.

      The “friendly, folksy panhandler” in front of Target, Starbucks, CVS, Walgreens, … can quickly become a terror if you challenge them. We have shared videos of these bad actors going off when they are triggered, including violence targeted to Peets, Starbucks, Walgreens employees and anti-gay threats.

        1. I bought pepper spray and an audio alarm for when I was commuting on the L earlier this year. I no longer take the L to work, but I have these protections in case I need them in Evanston. It really sucks that I might need them here…

      1. SM: You’re welcome!

        Depressing or not, it’s reality. And you are totally correct, by all counts “I have given up, I do live in a bad neighborhood, and I do need to act accordingly.” Only difference, all of my suggestions are non-confrontational, non-violent, non-threatening. I will accept videotaping an encounter with an aggressive panhandler as a viable inexpensive tactic, but not carrying a knife or other weapon.

        Carrying a weapon would make me no better than the aggressive panhandlers. If an altercation broke out between an aggressive panhandler and a knife wielding individual on the street and the police intervened any guess who would wind up going to jail? You guessed it, it would be me.

  12. It is important for Evanston residents to understand that the Margarita Inn Homeless situation is not for Evanston homeless but for any homeless from anywhere with any underlying condition or disadvantage. This is not for so-called “Evanston homeless” but for anyone who comes to Evanston from Robbins or Florida or Waukegan or well, anywhere.
    In that a high percentage of homeless have underlying mental health conditions, where are the services? Or are we, in fact, creating a new Albany Care in downtown Evanston and one without ANY state oversight?
    While panhandling and homelessness are separate issues they sure seem to be tied together. How many panhandlers are in downtown Wilmette? or Skokie?

  13. Why is there a drug recovery center in downtown Evanston by the Metra Train Station? I watch them while I wait for the bus as they occupy the bus benches as if they’re at a park.
    I’ve had some bus drivers express that they have to close their doors when exiting the bus because of the theft and no payment of bus fare from them. So, seems there’s a lot of work to be done.
    These problems come with safety.

    1. I live on Grove, and I walk that stretch of Davis and the immediate are all the time. If you observe carefully enough, you might even see some “traffic” between that methadone facility and the Margarita Inn. In any case, there are always vagrants loitering around that area, including the Davis L and Metra stops, some of them quite aggressive. One time I could not use the Davis station’s elevator, as there was a vagrant using the elevator to sleep in… another time, one came from behind and almost pushed me into the street. I talked to the liquor store owner on Davis, and he said the vagrants are definitely now a “problem”… other business owners will say the same.

      It’s the “new normal”, I guess 🙁

  14. Is this a harbinger of Evanston’s future?

    https://blockclubchicago.org/2022/09/15/as-touhy-parks-tent-city-swells-park-district-closes-its-field-house-and-moves-programs/

    As Touhy Park’s Tent City Swells, Park District Closes Its Field House And Moves Programs

    Joe Ward – 09/15/2022

    A tent encampment that has resided in Touhy Park since summer 2021 has led to debates about how to best help its residents while keeping the park available.

    “ROGERS PARK — The Park District closed the field house at Touhy Park, the site of a growing tent encampment, this week.

  15. I say open the parks to tents so we can house as many homeless as possible. Why stop at the Margarita Inn? Let’s build shelters for the panhandlers also so they don’t get wet in the rain and snow. Maybe get them heaters so they are as comfortable as possible until they go home to the Margarita Inn and their free room, laundry and maid services, premium cable packages, and catered meals.

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