The belongings of a homeless person line a sidewalk on Benson Avenue near Clark Street.

There is no room at the inn.

The Margarita Inn, that is.

There are no beds at Hilda’s Place, Evanston’s original homeless shelter.

And shelter space at nine Interfaith Action houses of worship is available only in the winter.

“On May 21,” said Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), “after the [Interfaith Action] rotation ended, those who had a place to stay last night” didn’t have one any more.

So while Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9) presented the huge, symbolic check Monday for $2 million to Connections for the Homeless, to help bring beds back to Hilda’s in the future, there is no shelter space available for a man who has been living on Benson Avenue near Clark Street for at least a week.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky presents symbolic $2 million check to Connections for the Homeless.

And there’s also apparently nothing the City can do to move him out, unless he blocks the sidewalk or does something criminally aggressive to a passerby.

While other homeless individuals may be sleeping outside, perhaps in alleys, or in cars, the person on Benson, with worldly his possessions under a tarp/canvas, appears to be the first to recently set up housekeeping outdoors downtown.

His “home” is up against the CTA rail embankment. Stores on Benson are across the street.

It’s not the heart of the business district, but it’s obvious if you walk by. Hardly a plus for a downtown struggling to recover economically from the pandemic.

But Nia Tavoularis, of Connections for the Homeless, told Evanston Now “there is not a shelter for him to go to.”

While that person may symbolize the problem, the issue is far larger.

More than 100 people met Monday afternoon at Lake Street Church, the home of Hilda’s Place, for the check presentation from Evanston’s member of Congress.

A huge negative, Schakowsky told the crowd, is that “we [as a society] have started to tolerate the idea of being unhoused and homeless.”

The previously approved $2 million will help turn Hilda’s Place back into an overnight shelter.

Starting in 1984, Hilda’s was a place where those experiencing homelessness could experience a warm bed instead.

But when COVID hit, the 18-bed shelter was closed. Hilda’s remains, but only as a food/clothing/counseling/medical site, and in daytime hours only.

Clothing is available at Hilda’s Place. Facility is named for Hilda Carpenter, an early volunteer.

Betty Bogg, director of Connections for the Homeless, said the $2 million will assist in “re-opening congregate housing shelter” at Hilda’s, “putting beds back on line 365 days a year.”

But getting that overnight shelter in place will not happen overnight.

Connections, which runs both Hilda’s and the Margarita Inn, the hotel turned into a shelter, says $1-$3 million more is needed to fully upgrade Hilda’s for overnight stays, so the upgrade won’t happen for perhaps two years.

Bogg said that based on data from the City, an average of 140 people per night in Evanston need a place to sleep.

But the Margarita only has 70 beds, and it’s full. For now Hilda’s has zero, and the Interfaith churches and synagogues have no beds in the summer.

The Evanston YWCA does have shelter space for those escaping domestic violence, but that’s usually women and children, not single men, and they’re not necessarily homeless.

An organization called Family Promise might have up to a dozen spots, but, as the name states, it’s for families.

And there is a shelter in Arlington Heights. But it does not accept people from Evanston.

Which brings us back to the man on Benson Street, who probably symbolizes other homeless individuals who are not as visible.

Tavoularis told Evanston Now that outreach workers from Connections have been in touch with the person, hoping to help somehow.

Deputy Police Chief Melissa Salcuti told Evanston Now that if the homeless man is on CTA property, and CTA asks him to leave and he refuses, “he can be arrested for tresspass.”

On the other hand, Salcuti said, “if he’s on the public way the police don’t have the right to move him along unless he is interfering with free passage.”

The city code, at 7-2-12-1, makes it illegal to “obstruct or interfere with the free passage of persons or vehicles … or in any way harass or intimidate any person seeking to use said public right of way.”

Refusing a police order to “disperse or to cease” such obstruction is a violation. But if you’re not blocking free passage, you’re OK.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has repeatedly ruled — in Martin v. Boise in 2018 and in Johnson v. City of Grants Pass earlier this year, which was denied rehearing just last week — that prosecuting the homeless for sleeping in public violates the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, unless there are sufficient shelter beds to house them all.

That ruling technically only applies to states on the west coast in the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction. And it has sparked contrary responses elsewhere, with, for example, Missouri and Tennessee adopting laws that make sleeping or camping on state land a crime and other jurisdictions creating approved campsites, and then barring camping elsewhere.

Here in Evanston, where officials say the number of homeless shelter beds is inadequate to meet the demand, application of the 9th Circuit’s rule would make a ban on sleeping in public illegal.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. The homeless population will continue to increase exponentially in Evanston, as will the panhandling, as long as Connections continues to import homeless individuals from all over Suburban Cook County. It is their business model. The Evanston homeless population is not growing on it own, this is a “problem” created intentionally by Connections so that they can come forward with the “solution.” Keep in mind, they do this by claiming that the lack of affordable housing and shelter beds are the cause of homelessness. They intentionally ignore severe mental illness and drug addition as to reasons why the homeless are unhoused and evade providing information on the criminality ot the people they import to Evanston. These oversimplified mistruths allow them to exploit every level of City government. They are the greatest threat to all economic growth and public safety in Evanston as they have infiltrated every level of Evanston’s staff and government.

    1. I agree with 4th ward business owner. These individuals are not Evanston residents. However this influx of unhoused people will continue until there is enough outcry among Evanston residents. We haven’t reached that point unfortunately. At the downtown library last Thursday there was a man obviously suffering from mental illness who was yelling out for quite a long time I went to a staff member and asked that they call security as he was disturbing everyone. She said they can’t do that anymore. We have been told to just let them be.

    2. Agree. 100%. Connections, and our City Council, continue to ignore that in many cases homelessness is the symptom, but the disease is actually mental illness and/or substance abuse. These problems aren’t solved with a bed and a photo op with Jan Schakowsky.

  2. Most people understand that homelessness is a real problem. However, Connections damn well better have 1 bed for every bus ticket that they hand out to an addict or homeless person (yes they have reps who go to Chicago and surrounding areas and hand out tickets to get to Evanston) Evanston is already the leader on the North Shore for housing the homeless. What is the goal we are trying to get to? My sense is that we will let CFH continue their problematic business model until there is sufficient amount of public outcry to stop them. Evanston can’t solve the homeless problem, other municipalities need to be made to step up as well.

    1. The more unhoused people they lure to Evanston, the more big checks they get. It makes such a nice photo app for ambitious politicians.

  3. I see three shopping carts in this photo. This is stolen property, is that also acceptable in today’s environment? Most likely other tent cities started with just one person camping out; there is nothing stopping this from becoming a tent city.

  4. The individual featured in this article assaulted me on Juneteenth. He told the police that Connections for the Homeless “brought him here” but then refused to help him. He is dangerous, volatile, and very angry. It appears people are providing him with items – food, clothing, etc. which is only enabling a very dangerous person from the south side of Chicago to live in our streets and terrorize passersby. Please heed this warning to stay away from him.

  5. And that is Evanston. We are the North Shore capital of homelessness serving the wider Cook County geographic area. There are numerous individuals living on our streets, creating filth, committing crimes, and ramping up our urban blight. Our elected officials ignore this escalating issue. Connections for the homeless brings these people to Evanston and often because of the mental state of the individual, they are deemed not suitable for Connections’ model and services. So they set up camp throughout wards one and four. They feed off of our gullible Evanston residents , who think they are helping people by giving them money. This money is most often used to buy booze and drugs by these individuals, which makes their behavior even worse and more dangerous. Quality of life for many residents is declining rapidly. Our safety is threatened. The population of those claiming to be homeless is rapidly increasing. A councilmember told me that, without a homeless shelter at the Margarita Inn Evanston would have a tent city. Well, we have a homeless shelter at Margarita Inn, and still are on the verge of our own tent city.

  6. The increase in homeless and panhandlers didn’t just fall out of the sky—-they were invited—-city council and All Inn’rs sent out golden solicitation tickets—-they’ll keep coming, and then Connections will say they need more space, more resources and more money—-see how this works yet my overly benevolent and blind fellow residents?—-Connections is a business and the customers are lining up—-as for city commerce?—-they’ll keep leaving—-this is the trade-off you asked for—-don’t act naive and surprised when Evanston becomes West LA—-but you’ll have packed up and moved away by then, won’t ya?

  7. I overheard two police officers tell someone that the word is out as far away as California that Evanston is the place to get to if you are homeless. Tents also were going up near Holiday Inn a few weeks ago.

    1. I live near the Holiday Inn, and walk by there almost daily. I have *never* seen a tent near there.

      1. Jim, it’s located on the south-west corner of Lake and Sherman. They’re setting-up in the grassy area of “Harper Park” next to the train tracks with their overflowing shopping carts and blue tarps.

      2. There is a tent and resident at the park just west of the Church on Lake near the tracks. I think it’s Emanuel Church. Southwest Corner, just south of the Holiday Inn. A few weeks ago I stopped and met the resident. He informed me none of the agencies in Evanston will help him, he is VA and not from the area. I gave him resources for VA and a list of soup kitchens.

  8. Connections is a business make no mistake about it. It’s not surprising that it is in Evanston which is a profoundly progressive city. Which is a good thing except now we have unlimited virtue signaling i. e. Putting up lawn signs to illustrate how moral and righteous we are. Virtue signaling makes it difficult to understand the complexity of social problems and they are quite complex. Usually things have to reach a crisis point before we put aside our virtuous attitude and look a problem squarely in the face

  9. I agree with all of the above.

    At some point, when housing prices drop, the vagrants will try to move into Kenilworth. I imagine that the cops there will be less accommodating than Evanston’s finest.

  10. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear from Mayor Biss on this issue? How about our city manager Luke Stowe? Oh yes… the “mayor” practically lives in Wilmette and Luke Stowe lives in Libertyville. They can’t be bothered. And don’t forget, most of the city staff – and the consultants they so frequently hire – don’t live in Evanston either.

    Maybe one of our brave alderman could go online and tell us why our city is being overrun by addicts, grifters, and the mentally ill (oh, my bad, I meant to type “homeless”) from all over the Chicagoland area? Maybe Betty Bogg of Connections can help us un-pitch the tents?

    While our elected leaders remain silent, and the myriad of outside parties profit from the soft side of Evanston’s citizens, our retail businesses continue to fail, vacant store fronts remain vacant, and our property values decline. Every day I get asked for money by the panhandlers. They even ask me to Venmo it to them. They think I’m a walking ATM (hmmm….. aren’t they suppose to stay 50 feet from an ATM?).

    When the next election is here I will be backing anyone but Daniel Biss and I will support with lots of hard dollars anyone that runs against his handpicked do-nothing council members.

    What goes around comes around, and boy oh boy, it is coming around.

    1. If you need a way to get in touch with our mayor – here is his email address

      I sent him a picture of these situation prior to July 4th. He said he would address it immediately. We need to keep pressure on him. Please send concerns to his email box.

  11. I walked through Oldberg Park at Clark and Sherman at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Three benches had sleeping homeless men, and there was a stench of urine and fecal waste. All these things are illegal.

    1. Interesting, Jeff. The article essential implies that what you label as illegal are perfectly legal. I would be interesting in your thoughts on what laws are being violated. With that perhaps we can get the EPD to enforce the laws.

      1. Hi Peter,
        Let me pick up on this …
        Being present in a park between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. is a violation of the city code section 7-10-2. (So being there at 8:30 a.m. doesn’t violate that ordinance.)
        Urinating or defecating in public violates section 9-5-11 at any time of day. (But unless a cop catches you in the act …)
        — Bill

  12. Don’t the business owners have rights as well? Being able to protect their businesses from vagrancy and panhandling in front of their businesses as well as to their customers. Why doesn’t EPD establish more foot patrolling/bike patrolling the troubled areas of “Tent-City ” “Vagrancy ” “Pandhandling”? There is an individual that’s sleeping on the slide in Alexander Park Ridge/Lake now preventing children playing in the park. The bags the homeless are carrying with them are mostly filled with old garbage making it a health risk. Why doesn’t the city do drive-by in the area where the homeless are leaving their so called personal possessions as they go out panhandling? Isn’t littering illegal? Leaving their personal items in public areas unattended has become garbage to be collected. There are other city codes and state laws that EPD can enforce as a deterrence for them congregating and panhandling. Business owners need to post signs indicating that vagrancy and solicitation will not be tolerated and we call police. In closing, why isn’t EPD doing any real police investigation concerning the drug transactions in front of the Margarita and along Davis in front of the Post Office? Making arrests of both the individuals purchasing the drugs and the dealers. I’m always noticing clients of Connections staying at the Margarita getting their drugs delivered and going back inside the Margarita

  13. This is a fine mess created by people with no foresight whatsoever. Our naive unserious leadership was taken in by the promise of easy ‘progressive’ political wins and do-gooder talking points. Well, now the word is out about Evanston’s generosity. But the demand for room at the Margarita is far more than the supply, as any idiot who’s applied to college knows.

    CFH will argue that the answer is more buildings and will no doubt try to buy vacant commercial space if/when that goes into pre-foreclosure. I can easily see NU hiring more perimeter security to keep campers off their lawns.

    How dystopian. This was utterly preventable.

  14. Evanston’s growing Homeless Industrial Complex serves two purposes: 1) it bolsters Connections for the Homeless’ finances and power as an lobbying group, and 2) allows the large percentage of Evanstonians who are apathetic and uninvolved to feel like they’re being good citizens, even when they don’t bother to vote in municipal elections.

    Our mayor and city council members haven’t met a homeless shelter proposal they didn’t like, while for-profit proposals sit unapproved for years. The state of downtown Evanston shows the results of that NIMBY approach (yes, Mayor Biss, NIMBY affects for-profit development, too.) But as long as a significant proportion of Evanston residents skip local elections, nothing will change – except our taxes.

    I’ll soon be able to leave Evanston. Looking forward to moving to a city where tax increases aren’t treated cavalierly as “no biggie,” and where people pay attention to city government and vote in municipal and school board elections.

  15. A great many homeless people have mental illnesses and/or substance abuse problems. When our homeless shelters don’t even test for these illnesses, and encourage these people to come to Evanston, it’s inevitable that crime will increase. My heart goes out to these poor souls, but our inept Council continues to make decisions that make them feel righteous and good, while these decisions are not in the best interest of our city or those it serves.

  16. I can confirm a minimum of 6 vagrants sleeping in 4 parks all night. This includes the once safe and enjoyable Merrick Rose Garden. In addition, a vagrant is sleeping in the porta-potty the City put up for them near the alley on Church between Chicago and Hinman near the City Public parking lot. Further, a number of vagrants are sleeping all night in vacant and open storefronts downtown. And finally, add those who are sleeping in the alley behind Hilda’s Place and on several church grounds. Oh, and don’t forget the guy mentioned in this article.

    We have documented most of these observations and provided it to Mayor Biss, the City Manager, and several Council members, only to be completely ignored, dismissed as being in the minority with our concerns, or lectured on the reason for homelessness being Evanston’s lack of affordable housing. That’s right. And I’m not making this up.

    The reason some of you are not seeing some of this is that these vagrants are mobile, streetwise, sneaky, and smart, in the sense that they often don’t stay in one place too long for fear of being caught or attacked by one of their own.

    EPD’s hands are tied regarding the obvious illegal nature of most of this, presumably due to directives from our social justice warriors in City government currently. The police need to be allowed to do their job and begin to make these vagrants feel as uncomfortable and unwelcome as many of us tax paying long (and short) time residents now feel in Evanston. Residents also need to stop giving to these vagrants for the same reason.

    I encourage all of you to remain vigilant in reporting issues to EPD (feeling unsafe, criminal trespassing, public urination/defecation, public intoxication, public nuisance, disturbing the peace, littering, public health concerns, aggressive panhandling ….most ARE criminal matters) and also trying to get through to the Mayor, City Manager, and Council members with your concerns.

    While not all, most of these non-residents are coming here because of CFH and their connections with many other Cook County social services organizations. CFH claims to have a waiting list of over 100 people for Margarita Inn. I have talked to several new arrivals on the waiting list who have come here to wait IN OUR BACK YARD.

    I’ve heard from a social worker in Portland who visited Evanston earlier this year warning us that we are now what Portland was 5 years ago. You know the rest of that sad story…….

  17. As a Margarita “neighbor” (living within 500 feet),and a former Connections employee who worked out of the Margarita, Hilda’s Place, and 2121 Dewey, I find all of these comments here spot – on…

    Connections – with the connivance of the “woke” city government – has become a corpulent and greedy monster; there are no rules or boundaries for Connections -they view us Evanston citizens as a bunch of chumps…

    The picture above of the PR stunt with the giant check is nauseating – the people in that picture are ***determined*** to turn Evanston into another Portland, Seattle, or Frisco….

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  18. I agree with every angry, frustrated, helpless comment. I absolutely will not accept nor should anyone else, bashing the EPD. Don’t go there. Wasn’t too long ago some of these folks were demanding that EPD be defunded. A foolish, divisive cry from the start. After we alienate the police, who we gonna call…. Ghostbusters?
    It’s a 50/50 split between the folks handing out money and the self serving politicians who we can place the blame on. Not EPD.

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