A circuit court judge issued a temporary restraining order Friday blocking City Council discussion Monday of the special use request from Connections for the Homeless to continue operating the Margarita Inn as a homeless shelter.

The request for the restraining order was made by attorneys for Cameel Halim, who owns two properties on the Oak Avenue block where the Margarita is located, at 1566 Oak Ave.

Halim says he filed the lawsuit because the Land Use Commission mistakenly denied his statutory right to a continuance of its hearing on the special use request, and then the City Council refused to correct that mistake.

Halim’s attorney, Alan Didesch, says Circuit Judge Neil Cohen 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 constitution.

Evanston Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings confirmed to Evanston Now this evening that the temporary restraining order had been granted this afternoon, but said he had not yet received a copy of it.

“I expect that it means the ordinance regarding the special use permit will be taken off Monday’s agenda,” Cummings said.

He said next steps regarding the special use permit have “yet to be determined.”

Judge Cohen has scheduled a hearing on whether to continue the injunction against the city for March 2.

Halim says he “had no desire to file this lawsuit,” but that the city would not listen to his multiple pleas to be heard.

Halim says he also disputes the claim of Mayor Daniel Biss that the “Good Neighbor Agreement” the mayor signed with Connections “has overwhelming neighborhood support — when it fact it does not.”

And he argues that proposed conditions the city is attaching to the special use request “are essentially meaningless and legally unenforceable.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Man, what was Evanston City Council thinking? They completely screwed this up, what sort of counsel were they getting to make this kind of mistake?

    1. Yeah, I can’t wait to hear the “damage control” on *this* one, lol…

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

  2. The majority of the neighbors of the Margarita thank you Mr. Halim. And shame on Evanstons city council, mayor, and corporation counsel for flagrantly circumventing due process, statutes and disregarding many business owners and tax paying residents impacted by this.

  3. Finally, some common sense and sanity come to the fore in this ghastly convoluted saga!

    As a “neighbor” of the Margarita Inn, I am so *very* grateful to Mr. Halim and Judge Cohen for this action…

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  4. Biss and Niewsma are on the wrong side of history and moral principles. They are Portland 2019.

    Evanston has become a beacon for vagrancy, filth, crime. Talk to the vagrants. They are naively transparent about coming here because Connections told them to! Connections, Niewsma and Biss use the tired excuse “if Connections wasn’t here, we would have a tent city.” That’s BS. Connections is bringing bad actors to our community.

    We should let our police STOP the vagrancy. None of us signed up to be a regional vagrancy center when we purchased our homes.

    Whole Foods dining area is the latest casualty. It has become a disgusting day care for the vagrants who inhabited the library, now closed for plumbing repairs from vagrant trashing of library bathrooms.

    Without civil society, nothing else matters.

    Niewsma, Biss: your “white supremacy privilege guilt” is your personal issue that should not guide societal norms.

  5. The neighbors were never given a seat at this table. Every meeting Nieuwsma attended was a meeting he could list so that he could say he did outreach. Any office hours etc. made zero impact on his decision making. His mind was made up before he ever met a neighbor of the Margarita. Evanston is lucky to have someone brave enough to stand up to this City and prevent it from abusing its power.

  6. Fitting that the day after signing the sham “Good Neighbor Agreement” the actual neighbors versus the politicians who do NOT live on Oak Avenue have a say! The city tried to circumvent due process and a judge slapped this overreach down. Now the neighbors have a voice. Drugs and alcohol are allowed in the Margarita that houses children. How do the residents get these drugs? I don’t think it’s Door Dash. It’s from dealers who are have made Oak Avenue the place to be. Central Street neighbors don’t want a few beers drunk at concerts for 10 days a year but Oak Avenue can have hard drugs sold year-round? The hypocrisy is mind-boggling. This city needs a reset from the top down.

  7. Not only was the Good Neighbor Agreement a sham — the Connections “Listening Sessions” were equally a ridiculous waste of time. Connections has never listened to this community. Thank goodness the judge stood up for the neighbors when the City did not give them the most basic privilege of being heard.

  8. Is this what it takes to have the City listen to neighbors? Do you have to be wealthy *and* forced to sue? He wrote that he didn’t even want to but the City repeatedly ignored him. Very poor form on behalf of the City.

  9. Mayor Biss,
    Alderman Reid,
    Alderman Niewsma….

    … We, I, reject 100% virtually everything you have proposed, and your reference points.

    Your personal advancement agendas are detached form the will of the people of this town.

    In particular, Alderman Niewsma, your boast that you specifically entered elective office to “undo” – is hardly an endorsement to serve all.

    One does not, in good faith, enter into elected politics to grind an ax, virtue signal, or settle a score

    The job is to serve all of the people, practice empathy, including for those with whom you disagree.

    Also, I, as a taxpayer will not pay or consider for a nanosecond, to pay for your out-of-pocket expenses. What unmitigated Gaul!

    Do what my Goddaughter and daughter do — teachers — who love it and are dedicated enough — to pay it out of their pocket. Cant do it — do something else.

  10. The Housing First model is controversial. While it tackles the immediate problem of homelessness, it doesn’t require a treatment plan to address the underlying mental health issues and/or substance abuse that affects some residents of the Margarita Inn. Without a collaborative relationship with the neighborhood, I don’t know how CFTH expects their program to benefit anyone. This lawsuit could’ve been avoided!

  11. This man should be given the Nobel peace prize. He was heckled at a meeting after saying Connections residents destroyed his property. He was called a Nimby in the press by Connection. He then offered Connections to help them build another shelter at a lower price in a better location for all parties – they didn’t bother to answer. He asked the City “multiple times” for a basic due process hearing and they didn’t bother to reply. How are either of these parties good neighbors ?He literally had no choice left but to sue. Both Connections and the City are lucky that Mr. Halim has the best interest of the city in mind, and is also a civic minded person – this could have ended far worse for Connections and/or the City for someone with his resources. Especially, someone they have treated so very poorly.

  12. Thank you Mr. Halim and Cook County Circuit Court! Now if only we can get Biss, Nieuwsmato, and Reid to resign.

  13. Good job Mr. Halim – keep fighting. Everyone that opposes this, keep fighting.

    And you wonder why people don’t trust politicians? I mean GOLLY. What a bunch of sleezebags.

  14. Thank you Mr. Halim.

    How unfortunate it came down to this.

    What the heck is wrong with our Land Use Commission, City staff, and elected officials in Evanston? Are they ignorant, underhanded, misguided or all of the above?

    If something this critical and impactful to the future of life as we knew it in Evanston is handled in such an irresponsible manner, imagine how all of the other matters in the City are likely handled.

  15. I’m not a fan of Halim, but sometimes you come together as a community, friends or no, to get things done.
    If you could find the names of the businesses and neighbors (actually everyone) that drafted that Good Neighbor Agreement, that would probably help your case.
    Can’t believe I’m saying this, but:
    Good Luck

    1. As close neighbors, I must confess that we were angry about the earth-shaking, disruptive museum construction that lasted years and years. Vibrations, dust, constant noise… Still, I can’t deny that the Halims have created real value in this neighborhood. Mr. Halim has multiple properties within 2 blocks of the Margarita and seems to have a vision and seems to care about thoughtful development. Given how much commercial space he controls in and around downtown, I’m surprised that he didn’t have more clout with the city.

    2. In the comments over in the other city paper website, one person admitted to being on the committee as a neighbor.
      A quick online search and a map made me think that she wasn’t the best candidate.
      I’m 150′ from the Margarita Inn, this lady is almost 1600′ distance from it. The only impact of the shelter being here maybe the effects of its residents being at Merrick Rose Garden drinking instead of on the lip of the ramp to my parking area.
      I know my reasons for not volunteering to participate.
      I would be interested in what happened with maybe Katherine, Don, John, Mike and even Greg during the initial phase of the good neighbor agreement that made it all go to pieces for us in the driver and passenger seats vs the way in the backseat of the station wagon in the bench seat facing the rear who did end up chiming in?

      1. Thanks, Tim, I noticed that too about the the person mentioned on the other news site…

        Having worked at Connections for the Homeless, and knowing the derisive attitude of Connections management towards even our most routine concerns, I knew that the whole Good Neighbor Agreement process would be a sham, so I was never interested in becoming part of the process. One person who was briefly involved in the process told me that during the initial GNA meeting, CFTH Program Manager Tina White(my supervisor when I worked there) presented the group with “pre – approved” points that would *not* be further discussed – one was the absolute insistence of Connections that Margarita guests be allowed to consume alcohol on the premises, as this is part of their “do no harm” modus operandi. So, a “one – sided” and frustrating “discussion”…

        And it’s a shame about the lovely Merrick Rose Garden, it was one of my favorite places “of respite”, since I live just around the corner. Sadly, since the Margarita became a homeless shelter, it’s still *another* nice thing that Connections for the Homeless has ruined.. it’s now just another “vagrant hangout”…

        Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  16. The Good Neighborhood Agreement was a complete sham. No property owner on the 1500 block of Oak Avenue would sign it. One wonders what pre-existing relationships that the neighborhood and business signatories had already with Connections for the Homeless?

    1. Richard Reeder wrote:

      “One wonders what pre-existing relationships that the neighborhood and business signatories had already with Connections for the Homeless?”

      As a resident on Grove, just around the corner from the Margarita, and also a former employee of Connections for the Homeless, I can categorically state that CFTH’s “attitude” was at best one of “dismissal” of *any* neighborhood concerns. I was in meetings at the Margarita where CFTH senior managers and Interfaith Action staff summarily referred to any concerns of their neighbors with terms such as “racist… cranks… haters… troublemakers”. I was shocked, since *I* am one of their neighbors…

      Several small business owners on Davis Street told me that they had tried to contact Connections, Mayor Biss and Ald. Nieuwsma with their concerns, but they were either ignored or gaslighted… and of course how they treated Mr. Halim was truly squalid…

      Since March 2020, Connections has done *nothing* to foster *any* sort of positive relationship with our 4th Ward neighborhood. They have arrogantly assumed that their purchase of the Margarita is a “done deal”, and that they are answerable to *no one*… it’s a textbook example of “hubris”…

      This is a HUGE screw – up on their part. If they had taken neighborhood considerations to heart a constructive relationship could have been formed, effective, safe, and robust management of the Margarita Inn could have been a given, and we would not even be discussing what a rotten deal Connections for the Homeless is trying to foist upon us. The Margarita Inn could be up and running as a credit to our neighborhood and city…

      I’ve stated before that I’d welcome a safe and responsibly – managed homeless shelter in our area, similar to Lincoln Park Shelter in Chicago or The Write Inn in Oak Park . They’ve robust Good Neighbor Agreements, and these neighbors – private citizens, police, city officials, and businesses – readily support them. Unfortunately, this whole “Margarita mess” is too far gone IMO to be salvaged…

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident and former CFTH employee

  17. I’m genuinely surprised at the reaction and clear opposition to the shelter at the Margarita Inn seen in the comments. I appreciate hearing more about the challenges the shelter has posed, and believe the concerns brought forward are valid and should be addressed. At the same time, I 100% support Evanston working to maintain a homeless shelter to help address the needs of the community.

    Having lived in Evanston nearly 20 years, homelessness is a clear problem for our city and has always been most visible downtown. The YMCA has had a men’s residence for several decades, which with an average rent of $560/mo. provides an amazing affordable opportunity for up to 156 people. The Connections for the Homeless shelter addresses a different level of need. We as a city need a broad coordinated approach to address supporting these people to get back on their feet. It takes a village. We haven’t got there yet, and the comments indicate that, but the solution is not simply to close this shelter. I am aware of some efforts to get more social service coordination, and know that in some cases programming is just ramping up.

    The process has been unique because of the pandemic, and there are issues to rectify. Now the courts are stepping in, and I hope to understand the impact of the ruling more clearly and expect justice will prevail. I do worry about how the ruling may hurt the most vulnerable and that the residents of the Margarita Inn will lose their opportunity for stable housing.

    I love Evanston in large part because we are willing to do the hard things when it is what is right. We invest in each other. We see each other. We love each other.

    I’m not aware of the other location Mr. Halim had proposed (can anyone provide more info?), and it’s generous to have offered to pay towards doing that. I also think downtown (access to greater social service, employment and transportation options) and the use of a building with existing infrastructure for a residence like this makes sense. It’s very reasonable to seek an alternative site, but this might be the best option. And I think it totally unreasonable to displace the residents without options.

    I would be open to considering a shelter in the 9th ward, and would also have clear reservations. “Not in my back yard” is where we find ourselves when the concerns cannot be addressed, and it takes a lot of faith on the will and coordination of our government, social service agencies and neighbors to support something as disruptive as this shelter has been.

    The city recently provided $3 million to help renovate the men’s residence at the YMCA, and I’m glad we did. The city should continue to support Connections for the Homeless in maintaining the shelter on Oak Ave, and should continue to work to better provide for the needs of its clients. The city should also continue to consider alternatives, but we must stand together in recognition of those who need our love the most and of doing what is right even when it is hard.

    Joe Alger
    9th Ward

    1. Joe, I 100% agree that we need good homeless assistance in Evanston. It needs to be a safe and positive environment for all Evanston residents experiencing homelessness. The Margarita is not that.

      CFH allows drugs and alcohol because of their focus on ‘low barrier’ residents (people who are rejected for drugs/alcohol/criminal history) and ‘housing first’ ideology (they don’t require residents to seek treatment.) According to Nia, at least 50% of the residents will have addiction issues. The only people they turn away are sex offenders. In the neighborhood, we see drug use, drunks, and even drug deals right outside the building.

      CFH also prioritizes ‘low barrier’ applicants, not Evanston applicants. They import people from other suburbs – which, ok. That’s an admirable mission, but… an Evanston facility needs to come from and serve Evanston first. It needs to be a safe, stable, and drug and alcohol free place where Evanston’s struggling families can receive help, especially those with minors who attend D65 schools.

      So yeah, I *don’t* want heroin and coke in my front yard. I don’t want desperate residents asking my kid for drugs on his way back from Nichols, which happened last year. I don’t want to watch a Margarita resident go from thin to skeletal over a year, waiting on the corner for her drug pickup, and wasting away to her addiction on CFH’s watch. I don’t want this in ANYONE’S yard, anywhere. But this is what CFH has brought to the immediate neighborhood, and if allowed to stay, it will continue.

    2. Surprised on Seward
      You state you ” 100% support Evanston working to maintain a homeless shelter to help address the needs of the community.” But Margarita is housing people under contract from cities outside of Evanston and even Cook County” . Is this really a burden you think is OK for your Ward? The 4th Ward?

      Having lived in Evanston nearly 20 years,

  18. I agree with sentiments above and also thank Mr. Halim. The most upsetting item to me just recently was the long letter from Mayor Biss “mansplainin” what Evanston’s moral philosophy is and how the economics of our downtown is working, and how it is improving. Hence, he posits, we all should join him in welcoming homeless and sometimes addicted folks, from wherever they were before our town, to move into what was a beautiful hotel. And to be sure to join him in voting YES on Monday night. After all, he had just signed the Good Neighbor Agreement. So did Betty Boggs! Hooray for them!

    What kind of bulldozing was that letter? Does Mayor Biss think we are children? Ignorant? I have been here nearly 40 years and am appalled at the hubris of these supposed representatives of the Evanston residents.

  19. Biss is stating that business in the area supports this proposal. Show us Biss, show us which business in the immediate area has welcomed this farce. I don’t think you can, so show us the list of businesses that are in support of this, make it public. Show us at least two-three businesses in the immediate area that are in support of Connections being paid to bus the homeless out of their cities into our downtown. Otherwise your long letters to the community making such statements are nothing but straight up fabrications.

  20. We are a young family that have lived in Chicago nearly 10 years and we are moving out of Evanston imminently. Leadership in this town is a complete joke. We can’t keep businesses in town, we pay more and more in property taxes despite lousy public infrastructure overlooked in favor of ridiculously sized rec centers and skateboard parks, and now leaders try to rush to rubber stamp decisions without following legal decision making frameworks. What kind of backward community has this become? I can’t wait to get out of here.

    1. I just want to second this comment—my young family moved to Evanston because we heard it was a great community to raise kids in, but all we’ve found in the 4th ward are busted playground, drug addicted homeless, and incredibly poor communication with city council. Couple that with the constant property blight since the pandemic, and it’s clear that Evanston doesn’t have a place for us. Good, cause we don’t want to live here any longer, either.

  21. Sad but not surprising that it took someone outside of Evanston to put a halt to this nonsense. We truly have become Portlandia — maybe we should rename our fair city Evanstonia.

  22. When you elect people who spend their professional lives in academia, who have never worked or have had to solve real world problems with real world solutions, who could care less what their constituents think/want, who excel at exhibiting their social justice outrage online, who have masters degrees & PhD’s in virtue signaling, and who think it’s their job to lecture people and define for this city what it’s moral compass looks like — exactly THIS is what you get.

    But yes, Mayor Biss & Alders — by all means keep telling yourselves, that all cities are struggling. By all means keep telling yourselves how unique and special Evanston is & that we can’t compare ourselves to any other place — especially (gasp!) the towns that shall not be named just north of us. Keep telling yourselves that we have a chance at revitalizing our downtown by making things a red tape, regulatory nightmare for small businesses. Also, no big deal that our schools are failing, and infrastructure is falling apart. Nothing to see here, right?

    Hubris, arrogance, and just plain stupidity. That’s what all levels of leadership look like in Evanston.

    I can’t wait to pay my next tax bill — can you?

  23. Doesn’t this simply delay the inevitable though? Not seeing the continuance changing much as it seems pretty clear the city council is going to approve the special use when they get the chance to vote. And the Margarita continues to operate as it has it the interim.

  24. Yes Fred, unfortunately likely true, however based on comments here and comments to stories on other local news outlets, it is glaringly obvious many citizens seek further analysis, better understanding, and true, objective, and best intended leadership from Mayor Biss, Alderman Nieuwsma, and the entire council.

    Sadly we are a city too stupid to do our homework for the most important class we need to pass with an “A”.

  25. Mr Halim: thank you for your ongoing support to attempt to bring Evanston from the abyss of vagrancy.

    We have photos and videos of new-to-Evanston street vagrants acting out against gay people at Peet’s, Starbucks, Walgreens.

    We advise gay friends to stay away from Evanston downtown and Main st corridors. Andersonville, Rogers Park, Skokie, Wilmette, Winnetka are much safer for GLBT community.

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