A neighboring property owner has sued to overturn the special use permit the City of Evanston granted Connections for the Homeless to operate a shelter at the Margarita Inn.

Cameel Halim, who owns two properties on the 1500 block of Oak Avenue where the shelter is located, claims in his suit that the city, in approving the homeless shelter use, failed to follow standards set by the state supreme court for granting special use requests.

He argues that the City Council failed to consider the the existing uses and zoning of nearby properties, the extent to which the zoning change diminishes his property value and the suitability of the property for the permitted use.

He also claims that two council members should have recused themselves because of alleged conflicts of interest, and that, if they had done so, the special use ordinance would have lacked the five votes required for approval.

The suit has been scheduled for an initial hearing before Cook County Circuit Judge Thaddeus Wilson on Oct. 12.

Connections has operated the shelter, with a capacity of about 70 residents, at the former boutique hotel since March of 2020, initially under an emergency agreement with the city, but zoning approval to make the use permanent wasn’t granted until last month.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. I completely understand Cameel Halim, concerns and living next door to the Margarita, I’ve noticed clients of the Connections staying at the Margarita congregating in front of the Post Office Davis/Oak drinking. The other day I had to call EPD non emergency for assistance in having a client at the Margarita that was sitting in front of the building where I reside. While living next door of the Margarita the clients are constantly panhandling as they are walking to and from the Margarita. I can only inmangine how they will be panhandling in front of his hotel once its open. With the weather being warmer it’s only going to be worse. It’s not just the clients of Connections staying at the Margarita but their association of others that are homeless are gathering around the area. I have taken photos of them gathering outside in front of the Post Office and forwarded these photos to our mayor including Betty Bogg. Naturally the mayor didn’t respond. However, Betty Bogg, did reply to the photos and concerns. Cameel Halim, I have respect for your concerns and determination in your legal battle against both the City of Evanston and Connections. You have my support and any assistance that you may require in your battle…..

  2. Can he be Mayor? I also think a suit from Evanston homeowners against the city for ignoring their fiduciary responsibilities to focus on social engineering/activism is in order as our property values decline.

    1. I believe that the home owners including all property owners as well as other businesses in the surrounding neighborhood of the Margarita should contact Cameel Halim, inquiring if they could be part of a class action concerning the city of Evanston and Connections. I have not seen any positive constructive behavior of those staying at the Margarita but rather negative impact in the neighborhood. Some of them have bicycles. They could take the incentive and utilizing their bicycles and make deliveries with Grubhub. Instead of being lazy and panhandling. If I was in need of extra cash. I would rent a lyft bicycle and work for Grubhub using the bicycle to make deliveries…..

      1. Are you willing to buy a bike for them? Could it be possible that you could get some of these people a job at your company? If each of you complaining could get a client from Connections a job at your company they would have money to move to their own house/apartment. This suit is for NIMBY not in my backyard!

        1. Funny…people who attempt to use the NIMBY accusation— like TK, our mayor and the fourth ward alderman— NEVER seem to actually live near the impacted neighborhood in question.

          And when repeatedly panhandled by the same Margarita Inn resident day after day, I suggested to him that there were several Davis St businesses with help wanted signs he might look into. He said, “but they only pay minimum wage. I make a lot more doing this.” He’s probably not exaggerating. Nice job training, Connections.

          1. Recently I was entering Bennison’s Bakery, and some young able – bodied vagrant was very aggressively rattling his begging cup to folks entering. When I pointed to a “Help Wanted” sign on Bennison’s door and suggested he apply for the several jobs listed (with okay pay and very flexible hours), he laughed at me…

            Of *course* one affluent – looking social justice warrior type woman overheard this exchange and chastised me for being “judgemental” (!). I’d bet my next paycheck that she also has one of those supremely annoying Connections “I’m All INN” t – shirts, lol…

            Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

          2. When I worked for Connections, one of the services “ostensibly” offered to Margarita guests is employment services. Since workforce services is my background and passion, I was eager to get stuff going like resume writing, interview prep, job clubs, access to interview/professional clothing, and inviting local employers and workforce non – profits to come and present to the guests. I myself have a large workforces services network; I’ve gotten hundreds of people jobs, and I can get most *anybody* some sort of work, even those who have serious Class X felonies, and that includes murderers…

            But at the Margarita there was *zero* interest amongst the guests in getting jobs; the number of those residents that *do* have jobs can be counted in the single digits…

            Since Connections does absolutely nothing in requiring their able – bodied Margarita guests to pursue jobs or training programs, my initiatives were a complete waste of time. Connections enables their guests to just lay around and do nothing, sleeping all day, partying, drugging/drinking, panhandling. You can offer all the great job opportunities in the world to this lot, but they’d rather stay indolent and dependent. So, many of the Margarita guests panhandle, grift, steal, or deal drugs to get some ready cash…

            Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

        2. Oh give me a break. They would use the money for drugs. This is the most ignorant comment I have seen. Go push your head further into the sand.

        3. TK, Mr. Halim is *not* a “NIMBY” type, and neither are we other concerned Margarita neighbors. We toiled at crafting an alternative and thorough “Good Neighbor Agreement”. We – in vain! – tried to honestly engage our 4th Ward Alderman and other city officials, and reached out to Connections, starting with CEO Betty Bogg about our valid concerns. For our diligent work and concerns we were stonewalled, insulted (Betty Bogg arrogantly referred to Margarita Inn “detractors’ as “racist”, and Connections PR person Nia Tavoularis glibly dismissed our GNA as a “PR stunt”…), and ultimately completely ignored. Mr. Halim was very casually denied his *constitutional* right to appeal the City’s actions – *by* the City…!!! Read the lawsuit, it is shocking…

          As a former Connections employee, working at the Margarita, I was gobsmacked not only by the squalid conditions for the guests, but *especially* by the utter refusal of Connections to hold themselves accountable to their neighbors and the Evanston community at large. This lack of integrity and transparency on their part was a deciding factor in my voluntarily leaving their employ…

          If Connections and the City had engaged in a good – faith effort, we could have a well – run and safe shelter that all could support and be proud of. But the hubris of CFTH and our city officials has led us to this impasse, as this is now the *second* Margarita lawsuit. IMO Connections and the City are *solely* to blame for these legal actions. Hopefully, by this time next year, this sad sordid saga will be resolved – and in *our* favor. As taxpayers and good citizens, we deserve *far* better than what an irresponsible outfit like Connections is “offering” us via the Margarita Inn…

          Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident and Margarita “neighbor” (living within 500 feet)

  3. Applause to Mr Haleem for having the courage and capacity to stand tall on this. I’d certainly vote for him for Mayor or 4th ward council. We need more voices like his

  4. I offered to give you information about what really happens in the margarita to help the lawsuit to help protect the residents but no one wanted to hear me out

    1. I’m guessing, but I think that none of your information can probably be used, legally. This was always going to end up in court, and it will be determined by if there was any documented and provable violation of laws. Your info would probably be useful if volunteers/employees of Connections or the residents were going to sue the upper management for failing to provide workplace safety or violation of rights that happened on their premises. Or if it’s about the drugs, your info might be used if someone wanted to sue the upper management or landlord for operating a drug house. But any evidence has to support the specific lawsuits.

      I’m friends with a local attorney, and she has explained that, no matter how outrageous the treatment of their residents and employees, it doesn’t matter unless it can be used to prove that specific laws have been violated. This war is fought on paper, not with morality and feelings.

      1. Exactly, Katherine. As a former employee of Connections I’ve plenty of “inside knowledge” of what is ocurring at the Margarita, but none of that is “relevant” in either of the “Margarita” lawsuits filed – and I personally know both of the plaintiffs. At best, I can submit my impressions “on record” to City meetings, make public comments here, etc….

        Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  5. Thank you, Mr. Halim, for spending your own time and resources to stand up for the City residents that are being wronged by CFTH’s practices. I don’t think a single person opposes helping the less fortunate, or doing it at the Magarita Inn. We just need CFTH to reform their practices to better ensure the chances for success of the residents at MI and the safety of all.

    1. Can all the neighbors and residents organize and get together to fight the nonsense coming from Biss and Nieuwsma? Would love to do that – so that we can fight these special interests creeping into Evanston, as they think we are an easy target – to get our hard earned money and property.

  6. Lots of NIMBY comments here. But am sympathetic to what is occurring. I suspect many of these homeless have mental health or substance use issues and we do not have a robust safety net to mange such chronic problems. I Agee that CFTH needs to do more to address these issues or you simply have these individuals cycling through their facilities with no long term solutions.

    1. Right, you get that it’s a complex situation, more than just ‘I don’t want THOSE PEOPLE in my beautiful neighborhood.’

      There is some NIMBYism to be sure, but the truth is that the Margarita has brought alcoholism, drugs users, drug DEALS, drug overdoses and deaths, and weapons to the neighborhood. There was a documented gun incident in 2020… who knows how many others there have been. And a couple months ago I watched a man led out from the Margarita in handcuffs from my window for ‘unlawful use of weapon.’ The police were searching the alley for 10 minutes for the weapon, whatever it was.

      We don’t want weapons and drugs on our block, and we’re tired of how Evanston blindly bends the rules for their pet causes. Riddle me this: A prop gun for Romeo & Juliet at the high school was taken with the utmost seriousness. But gun at the Margarita was hushed up… nobody knows about it unless they’ve read the police reports. I don’t trust the City, and I don’t trust Connections.

    2. Do you know that we have a YWCA and YMCA our backyard? Probably not, because they are very well run and they don’t allow substance abuse. They are wonderful neighbors who coexist peacefully. Kind of kills the NIMBY argument, but since you mentioned it, no I don’t want to pay high taxes to feel unsafe in a neighborhood I comfortably used to walk around in even at night.

  7. As nearly a life long resident of Evanston, I have observed the explosion of homeless individuals since the 1960s. The Margarita Inn by design is far more practical of a facility to provide this needed service. I would examine more closely what other motives the plaintiff might have given their other real estate holding in close proximity currently owned or planned. The city of Evanston has had scattered site housing for decades of varying scale providing shelter for the most needy. Instead of demonizing these vulnerable people as solely being culpable for their plight, why not ask ourselves how can we make it better? This homeless problem isn’t going to go away simply by obstructing progress. I was originally against this use because I felt the tax revenue potential warranted leaving this asset in place, but I have changed my mind. The current zoning provides for significant density unlike other areas in our community that have scattered site housing in zoning districts with less density (R1-R3) This is zoned R-6. The NIMBY argument shouldn’t simply be ignored. We should carefully consider the options, so I ask, If not here, then where?

    1. Darush, “If not here, then where?”

      The Halim family offered a more cost effective opportunity for a building on Howard to Connections that they would not entertain.

      A creative solution in partnership with Northwestern with their vast real estate portfolio might be another viable option.

      The Mayor has stated he would welcome a homeless shelter next to his home where there is a vacant lot.

      This isn’t as simple as Mr. Halim not wanting a homeless shelter near his properties but rather not wanting a poorly run homeless shelter that is not truly helping those facing the very complex and varied issues of homelessness in any part of Evanston.

      Powerful are the comments here from those who have worked for Connections and/or have faced homelessness.

  8. I support Mr. Halim 100%

    This could have been totally avoided if the mayor and council had heeded the views of citizens and the former police chief.

    What can I do to help!

  9. At the very least, Council members with conflicts should have recused themselves and not voted. This should be standard practice, not just with this issue, but with all issues. That the Council does not insist on this most basic standard of conduct is the reason I will work to vote all of them out of office.

  10. Wishing this guy all the best for his lawsuit. Reid voting in Connections’s favor after they paid his rent was really a turning point for me. I still hope a court and judge might examine the corruption that the city council and mayor and legal staff either ignored or abetted.

    A note to the people accused here of being NIMBYs – you’re allowed to not want something in your back yard, especially given the number of clearly expressed objections that have nothing to do with location. That NIMBY smear is getting lazily thrown at people to silence them, to make them accept the will of those in power. It’s not an honest or thoughtful critique and you don’t have to give it any oxygen.

  11. Those who are so quick to accuse Mr. Halim and others of “nimbyism” should note that Connections operations in Evanston serve all of Cook County. Doesn’t this beg the question as to why services aren’t being located and offered where the majority of those needing the services originated?

    Take a look around town and you’ll notice a continuous flow of new people identifying as homeless coming here, drawn by Connections’ marketing to them. Many can’t be served by Connections for a variety of reasons so they remain in Evanston, often panhandling, committing crimes, and sleeping in public and private spaces.

    A 70 bed regional homeless shelter, poorly run, located anywhere in Evanston is what many residents are and should be concerned with. The Mayor and those on the Council supporting this do not appear to have thought this through completely.

    1. JR, I work at the downtown Evanston Public Library (our org rents office space there), and some days the homeless outnumber the “regular” patrons. Most of the homeless are well – behaved, but a number engage in disruptive/illegal behaviors, with some of these incidents making the news…

      Yeah, there is a “spillover effect” – some have come to Evanston in vain, thinking that they could find “shelter” at the Margarita, etc. You have to understand that the street homeless have their own “information hotline”, which consists not of solid information, but of rumors, speculation, and simply “guessing” – all heard “on the street”. They hear that Evanston has this nice hotel place (the Margarita), and come here, thinking they can line up at the Margarita door and immediately get in. They don’t know that there is a months – long waiting list to get in… etcetera…

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  12. Shelter programs in Illinois consist of: Overnight shelters – a place to sleep for less than 12 hours. Meals and supportive services are available. Transitional shelters – shelter for up to 2 years with food and supportive services. Connections has experience in operations of overnight shelter at Hilda’s and resources of other overnight Shelters nearby. Sadly, they have no related experience in operation of a transitional shelter that Connections has made the Margarita. What everyone is really upset about are the facts the Connections including the mayor and city council members failed by doing any type of research of other organizations in operations of a transitional shelter such as the Margarita. For example Salvation Army The program – one of the most respected in the country – also provides transitional services and employment training to help clients overcome their addiction and provide life skills for successfully transition back into their communities. The Margarita should require those that wish staying at the Margarita making mandatory participation of programming attending drug/alcohol addiction counseling including N.A./A A. Meetings held at the Margarita, doing assessments of their education level if needed to provide education in preparation getting their GED, life skills including job search and working with other organizations assisting them in obtaining job training. In doing so this will provide their clients with a constructive life style while staying there to reduce their downtime going out on the streets all day panhandling to get money for their drugs/alcohol reducing the vagrancy living a non constructive lifestyle that only creates chaos in the neighborhood and within the city. If someone doesn’t wish to agree of programming they will still receive assistance in obtaining their own place of residence. But they would need to stay at a shelter in the evenings. The majority of the homeless at the Margarita are collecting some sort of SSI and possibly social security including a Link/Medicad. These are the same individuals panhandling for drugs/Alcohol. Connections has indicated that they have a successful rate in providing permanent housing. Yet, they have not provided statistical information regarding those they had placed them into permanent housing has actually failed due to not being able of paying their portion of rent. If they would actually utilize the Margarita has a programming faculty in providing drug/alcohol addiction treatment, education, job training, job placement, and life skills it would appear to be more successful as other transitional shelter run by other organizations such as the Salvation Army Shield of Hope. If Connections should agree in making the Margarita a programming faculty. I believe the neighbors of the Margarita would not object including Cameel Halim.
    I’m also concerned regarding the city of Evanston building their own homeless shelter and how they will be operated

    1. Good points all – still ….

      1 This is not the neighborhood for said program

      2 Evanston is one of the last cities/villages in The County Cook to host a homeless magnet

      Other Cook Co. communities can more easily accommodate with less disruption to established neighborhoods

  13. News flash folks. This isn’t about “homeless” people. That’s just word substitution to make you feel guilty for not backing this abomination.

    What we have at the Margarita is a mentally ill and/or addict housing facility. It is a fact (see Halim’s lawsuit) that has negatively affected property values in the neighborhood. My daughter-in-law will not walk down Maple with her children anymore after two incidents near the Margarita. Who would want to buy a condo next door to the Margarita? It’s just plain old common sense.

    The city council has messed this process up so badly and so alternatively against the rules that it is time to cut the losses and move on.

    If you want an Evanston homeless shelter for Evanston’s truly homeless (no crazies or addicts) I am ALL IN, but not anywhere near the CBD.

    Oh yeah, I forgot, why was Mayor Biss posing with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in front of the Margarita In last month? Take a look at the photo —


    I know why. The mayor is a political animal — his experience includes 6 years as an assistant professor (2002-2008) and since then (15 years) he has been active in Illinois politics in one form or another. This man wants to pad his political resume so that he can move on in two years and leave E-Town for something better. Our city is nothing more than a rung on his ladder.

  14. From a legality perspective I don’t know a thing towards how this will play out, admittedly not my area of expertise—-what’s baffled me is why elected officials such as Ald. Nieuwsma and Mayor Biss rammed this plan through favoring grifters, drifters, mentally disabled and drug addicts over tax paying residents of Evanston?

    To those who insist on denouncing people with concerns about Connections operating the Margarita as NIMBYS, that’s getting stale and pointless—-the disturbingly illegal behaviors by many Margarita residents isn’t fiction nor exaggeration—-it’s documented fact. I live across the alley from The Margarita and my eyes haven’t been playing tricks on me—-residents fighting, using and dealing drugs, using the alley as a washroom, and drifting about the neighborhood wreaking havoc—-I’m personally aware of two incidents where Margarita residents literally just let themselves into neighborhood houses where the owners found them walking about as if they lived there—-is that isn’t enough to shock those claiming NIMBY into reality land?—-I’m particularly dismayed while out walking and find a “We’re All Inn” yard sign stuck in the ground behind an iron fence of a multi million dollar house—-thanks fellow residents. Perhaps it’s time for Connections supporters to pull their heads out of the sand—the safety and financial well being of our neighborhood is a very real concern!

    Residents of Evanston experiencing difficult financial times deserve a place to stay, a temporary home with proper meals and health care—-I’m all Inn! But I’m not in favor of supporting what was once a nice Euro style BnB be turned into a shelter for a variety of Non Evanston criminals, panhandlers and drug addicts.

    I’m further concerned just exactly who and what is Connections For the Homeless?—-no one ever takes the time to provide a plausible mission statement. All we get is propaganda from Connections presented by a Betty Bogg and Nia Tavoularis—-who are these people? One thing is neither even lives in Evanston!—-just exactly how is it that two out of towner’s and their non-profit organization have seized control in deciding our city’s homeless issue and how best to resolve it?—-I personally don’t like it nor support Connections involvement in Evanston. What I see is a business—-a business where Connections is more like a company supporting people like Betty Bogg and Nia Tavoularis with high paying jobs—-their salaries are public information that can be found online—-is it possible both Bogg and Tavoularis be more concerned in their own city’s homeless issues?—-Yes!

    I’m supporting Mr Halim—-he’s been openly transparent in opinions on this issue, has a personal stake in the well being of Evanston and long provided financial wealth for Evanston—-that works for me

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