I believe that it is time for me to make a public statement on my position regarding the Margarita Inn, Evanston’s homeless population, and why I have taken the actions I have to date.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the position I maintain, and I have received a few comments like, “Wow, look at this man who does not want to help the homeless,” and “this man wants to have a home for his clocks and not for people.” 

I cannot dispute that my businesses have been successful. I came to this country 50 years ago with a few dollars in my pocket and a college degree. Since then, I’ve worked very hard to always do more, to always do better — and this has brought me great success. But, I believe that true riches in life rarely come from just being successful, but rather from one’s contributions in helping the community. 

Of course, I am very aware that many people work equally hard and do not have all the things I have been blessed with, so I believe it’s my duty to spend my time, my skills and my energy using the things I am good at to help others.

With time, I have learned this sad truth — there are few families in America, and maybe all the world, that have not dealt with either the scourge of severe addictions or mental health problems. For those of us so privileged, accessing good and high-quality treatment for ourselves and our loved ones is readily available.

But for those who aren’t blessed with such resources, they are left to choose between whatever government or not-for-profit programs their municipality supports, and maybe with good luck they may get positive and lasting treatment — or they may not. Unfortunately, inefficiency, poor programming, corruption and politics has led to a real humanitarian crisis in our country that has resulted in unnecessary deaths and trauma and has contributed to the severe suffering of our homeless population.

I would like to make one thing clear – I wholeheartedly support the proper and professional recognition, treatment and care of the homeless. It is the responsibility of the government and all of us to provide the best and highest care to our people. It is our duty. Writing letters with fancy words does not change this responsibility.

But our government has a duty to work for the people and the people have the right to make demands from the government. This is healthy and why I believe we all have to change and improve with time. But we have to do this with wisdom and an open heart and to listen to all the people in the conversation. And we must demand the best for those who cannot make such demands for themselves.

As someone who is proud to have helped house many middle-class families and individuals, both here in Evanston and in the City of Chicago (and its surrounding suburbs) for over 40 years, I have a great deal of experience in providing housing and working with different organizations to help those in need.

In the 1980s, I worked very hard with the Edgewater Community Council to manage blight and crime. I won the Northside Real Estate Board’s Good Neighborhood Award in 1983, 1987 and 1993.

In 1994 the Realtors’ Good Neighbor Award was given to me for my work restoring and preserving the Carlson Building in downtown Evanston.

Before I purchased the 2100 Fargo Building, a plumber had accidently opened a 4-inch gas line in the basement (mistaking it for a drain), and an explosion occurred that destroyed the North leg of this U-shaped court yard building. I went on to rebuild and restored it – winning the Rogers Park Community Council Tender Loving Care award in the process. 

In the 1980s, I worked to rehabilitate the 8th and 9th Wards in Evanston, which were not what you see today. We worked very hard to restore, revitalize and modernize these areas to help them become the beautiful places they are now. 

Additionally, I have had the honor to be an active member in my church community as a deacon and chief planner and have worked on building senior housing, youth recreation centers, schools for small children, and many other beautiful projects. In these projects we design and build these structures with the community in mind to make sure they achieve every benefit from the building that they can.

I can list many more activities of this nature, but it is not my intention to make such a list. It is my intention to say that, with all the experience I have, I believe that the path before the City of Evanston concerning the Margarita Inn is flawed.

I believe that the program proposed by Connections for the Homeless for using the Margarita Inn is unacceptable and will lead to long term conflict in the city, the deterioration of the downtown and inconsistent care and suffering for our homeless population due to the crowding out of services for those willing and able to get treatment when needed.

We have an opportunity to provide true help for our Evanston homeless community, and that means more than just putting a roof over their heads.

We need to make sure we also address any underlying conditions that make their reentry into society a challenge. This means we need to provide treatment options when needed, we need to make training opportunities available and we need to provide a whole program of support in order to give them a real chance to make their best lives possible.

I therefore request that the City of Evanston, Connections for the Homeless and the neighbors go back to the drawing board in earnest to make a successful, long-term shelter that will accomplish these goals, and which the neighbors will be proud of and participate in with pleasure.

When this happens, I will drop all my court cases and sign on to a new Good Neighbor Agreement. Otherwise, I commit myself to stay the course and continue the fight to see that we do right as a community for our homeless population.

Cameel Halim

Cameel Halim is a real estate investor in Evanston. An avid collector of antique timepieces, he has established the Halim Museum of Time and Glass next door to the Margarita Inn.

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35 Comments

  1. Mr Halim. This a very ambitious plan you are calling for. To move the plan forward it would be necessary to change the words in the conversation from “ homeless” and “ shelter” to “ treatment center” And it would be very very expensive. Still I applaud your effort

    1. As opposed to operating in the manner required to claim maximum Federal dollars (shelter with ‘low bar’ and minimal rules or treatment required), how about Evanston instead going the high road with a quality, not quantity approach and just taking on a smaller homeless population for which it could afford (without Federal dollars) to provide the costly treatment needed, and require higher standards of behavior?

  2. The city really should thank Mr. Halim for keeping this issue on track. Connections and Biss have undertaken a project that neither party can perform properly. As a very long-term resident of the 4th ward, I can state without hesitation that the effects of the Margarita Inn and Connections (mis)management are sharply felt. There is a lot more work that needs to occur before this will be successful. Also, Connections empty promises of “rich wrap around services” are only that- empty promises. The number of very high needs anti-social people in the downtown is slowly but surely increasing. If there were such rich wrap around services we would not be seeing this very obvious change. Connections has to be held accountable in a way besides that is just taking their word.

  3. I think Mr. Halim is on target with his analysis. The current situation is simply unacceptable and the new plan only expands on mistakes already made. Some actions are required beyond simply providing a roof over folks heads. Destroying the quality of life for residents of the affected areas should not be considered to be acceptable collateral damage in pursuit of a noble goal…

  4. Mr Halim is right the homeless population at Margarita aren’t just struggling with a homeless situation, they are chronically homeless. They have mental health issues, addictions, and may never be able to live independently. They need support services that are not even a part of Connections discussion. Evanston must do better than this, if they are hell bent allowing Connections then do it right. Also agree that fewer people can lead to better services for some.

  5. If I hear Botty Bogg or any of those Connections people talk about their “wrap around services” i will show them the photos i take of the residents of the MI ranting at the grass or shouting at people at the post office etc etc etc. I have spoken with different residents who are wholly unaware that there are services. Its a hoax and the neighbors bear the brunt of Connections poor mamagememt. Mr Halim is spot on bur to do it well we should Oust Connections and do this right.

  6. I am just going to say the obvious. There must be some other factor in play here because Evanston’s homeless problem is getting worse every day. Today’s warm weather puts an exclamation point on this statement.

    We’ve all heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. It seems that Evanston has lost its way.

    There’s no shame in admitting that we messed up trusting Connections. But what will be unforgivable is if we do not change course and address the homeless problem in a different way.

    If all an organization – like Connections – is doing is providing a roof then Evanston is not the place for them. We need to instead screen people to be sure that they really want help, that they will enter programs to stay off drugs and alcohol (and enforce this), that will undertake job training, and with assistance re-enter society. Let’s do some quality work instead of pursuing a very ineffective quantity strategy.

    If we don’t do this, if we remain with Connections, the Margarita Inn, and just act like we are making a difference, our city council must tell us what other agenda is being served.

    In the words of Ernest Hemingway, never confuse movement with action. Connections is all movement and no action. Time for them and their want of the Margarita Inn to go.

  7. Will Mr. Halim PLEASE run for mayor of Evanston? We need people with years of practical experience, knowledge, common sense & wisdom running our government again.

  8. Thank you, Mr Halim, for all you have done and continue to do for this community. I truly hope CFTH and the City will engage with you and not dismiss you.

  9. It is accurate to say that homeless people need services beyond homes, but they also need homes. People without a roof over their head have an almost impossible challenge to get through every day, to get meals, to find bathrooms, to find a spot to rest, to figure out how to get warm or cool off. This writer and the other letters in support of him are proposing adding to that accessing mental health services to recover from their illness, without the benefit of any centered care saying, “You may be suffering from mental illness, but go on your own and find this imaginary help.” Connections for the Homeless is navigating a very difficult path in support of these people, but let’s not pretend that without them, the homeless issue disappears and all the people they serve leave Evanston or get well and become productive. They have a plan, not just platitudes, and until someone proposes a better plan to serve this population, it’s the best plan that’s on the table. They have worked with the city and the neighbors to address concerns. They have worked with governmental agencies to line up services for their residents. Until Mr. Halim can counter their proposal with a plan for how he would propose to help, he is just another NIMBY participating in magical thinking.

    1. As a former Connections for the Homeless employee, and a neighbor living within 500 feet of the Margarita Inn, I’ll address several of Ms. Walter’s points:

      “They have a plan, not just platitudes, and until someone proposes a better plan to serve this population, it’s the best plan that’s on the table…”

      • I can state with *certainty* that have no workable “plan” – only “platitudes” on paper. IME Connections management of the MI is inept – not solely from their total lack of experience in running such a facility, but in also refusing to even *consider* more successful models of serving the unhoused (Salvation Army and other faith – based orgs, Lincoln Park Shelter in Chicago, Housing Forward’s Write Inn facility in Oak Park…). To quote Ernest Hemingway: “Never mistake motion for action”

      “They have worked with the city and the neighbors to address concerns…”

      • They have not IMO “worked with the city” in any *transparent* way. Connections tells the city what they are doing, barging right along, and with naïve city officials believing their every word. As for their much – touted “Good Neighbor Agreement”, a FOIA request to ascertain who actually *crafted* this document showed no “signers” (except for Mayor Biss and CFTH CEO Betty Bogg) – so why the “secrecy”?

      “They have worked with governmental agencies to line up services for their residents… Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with…”

      • They’ve received millions from government agencies (including a million recently from Evanston), but in lieu of “services”, they “warehouse” folks to “grow their numbers” for further funding. As for “respect”, in CFTH staff meetings neighbors’ concerns were haughtily dismissed, calling them “racists… haters…troublemakers…” – including many nasty comments about Mr. Halim. Connections, sadly, does not behave in a “good faith” way towards our community

      Respectfully,
      Gregory Morrow

    2. I agree completely that Evanston needs more housing and services for the homeless. It’s far easier to repurpose an existing facility and engage an existing organization that to start from scratch. We are all better off if Connections can run a successful program at the MI- and I write this as someone who lives three blocks away.
      However, the goal should be to help people, not just house them. The more I learn, it seems Connections puts emphasis on the latter. Perhaps it’s time to take a serious look at the plan emerging from California- California CARES – which emphasizes the duo responsibilities of housing AND treatment- to help people to emerge from homelessness.

    3. I also can say there are many solutions to making this shelter a success that we can all be proud of. Some of the points could include:
      1) Cut the building occupancy down to 30 as the Evanston zoning code for a transitional shelter requires.
      2) Remodel the Margarita Inn to have the first and second floors for supportive services.
      3) Include services such as a social worker, a nurse, classes, training and some programming.
      4) Prohibit weapons, drugs and alcohol to be allowed inside the property.
      5) Have each resident agree to accept treatment when needed.
      6) Adjust admission to only Evanston residents.
      I mention the above list, but there are many other ideas not mentioned that should be considered. But the true solution should come from the City of Evanston, Connections for the Homeless and the 4th Ward neighbors having a conversation in order to all agree on the path forward.

  10. An outstanding article and clearly with much support. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that this support is shared by Mayor Biss or 4th Ward Ald Nieusma who both promise dialogue but in truth only provide dialogue that meets their objectives. The suggestion that Haleem run for mayor is an interesting one but the election is some time off. Isn’t It time for Evanston to install a recall statute?

  11. An increase in the Homeless in Evanston? Didn’t someone say, “if you build it they will come”?

  12. The reason there are and will be more homeless is that that is what Connections wants and Mayor Biss allows them to shape policy to grow their business. They are expanding Hilda’s Place to the size of a second Margarita and Nia stated that they will STILL need an additional 200 beds after that. They are directing the zoning updates to our code and have Sara Flax, City Staff, literally doing their bidding for them for government grants. They are corrupt and manipulate the public’s emotions to shape policy and compromise objectivity in the council. Connections has to go.

    1. Are you planning to leave the 4th ward? My employer is moving her business out of downtown Evanston for another suburb entirely, and the increased vagrants / addicts / crime is one factor pushing her out.

      1. Katherine, the fact of businesses fleeing Evanston, or new businesses not even considering Evanston as a base, will be a growing trend. I talk regularly to the small business owners on Davis Street, near the Margarita Inn, and they are fed up with the crime and mayhem that has been rife since the Margarita opened. Every single one of them has contacted various city officials, but their concerns are either ignored or stonewalled – and some business owners are getting fed up, to the point of considering leaving…

        Yet OTOH we have City Council members rudely interrogating Mr. Halim, a successful business owner and charitable giver to our community, about his proposed plans to revitalize his King Home property, which is right across the street from the Margarita Inn… “go figure”!

        Respectfully,
        Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

          1. Jason, thank you, if I only were a few decades younger I might consider it, lol…

            Bust seriously, a significant contributor to Evanston’s problems is specifically this point: we’re governed by folks with little practical professional experience relevant to fiscal and business management of governmental agencies…

            From Mayor Biss on down, we have wishful thinking and a woke agenda, rather than hard experience gained by years of genuine fiscal management and serious business line-management experience…

            Do any of these folks know how to accurately read a spreadsheet?

            Do any of these folks know how to accurately read an audit report, understand both content and accounting footnotes?

            Do any of these folks have law practice experience with government laws and regulations?

            This latter is especially concerning; I’ll reference a previous ‘Evanston Now’ article concerning Mr. Halim:

            https://evanstonnow.com/another-delay-for-margarita-decision/

            Another delay for Margarita decision
            [ by Bill Smith – March 3, 2023]

            “The Land Use Commission had voted 5-3 on Nov. 30 to recommend that the City Council approve the special use permit for the Margarita homeless shelter, after the city’s legal staff told the commissioners they were not obliged under their rules to grant Halim’s request for a continuance…

            Alan Didesch [attorney for Mr. Halim] says that at the Thursday hearing before Judge Cohen, an attorney for Connections sought to intervene in the case and to have the court injunction calling for a continuation of the hearing dismissed as moot…

            But Judge Cohen, Didesch said, 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 constitutions…”

            Just some “food for thought”…

  13. I agree with Mr. Halim. As someone who has struggled a long time and been at risk of being homeless often – simply putting a roof over my head wasn’t a solution. It wasn’t even really the start to a solution. I needed to be in an inpatient and outpatient long term mental health program to finally be well enough to be back living mostly on my own with still quite a lot of help. I can work part-time, but maybe won’t ever be able to do full-time work, though I’m still hoping for that. I’ll be honest, just giving someone a roof over their heads doesn’t start the work. It just kept me in denial of needing help. What kept me from getting better besides my own denial and mental health issues was a lack of oney to pay for the mental health services I needed. That’s what I wish Connections and Evanston were doing. I’m one of the lucky ones. People stepped up and raised money to help me. I literally went once a day to a family for one good meal a day. They fed me for an entire year every single dinner. They gave me things to take back to eat for breakfast – yogurt, granola, fruit, etc. I’m grateful to them for their kindness. Other people collective came together and raised donations of – a lot of money – I think something like $40,000 dollars. to help me get into and pay for an inpatient and an out patient mental health program. I can’t possibly make that much money to pay them back in my lifetime, but I am grateful. But I want you all to know – it takes a lot of money to help just one person and housing isn’t enough. I had to want to get better. When people just band aid you, you think oh I can do this. Then you don’t think you need the daily therapy and all the skills training. I had to be able to get better. I needed people who knew how to and could give me the therapy and skills training and support I needed. I needed some constant love and support. I needed a huge sum of money I could never have come up with on my own for all the mental health care. When you all talk about homeless people – Connections isn’t the answer. Creating a mental health service that can be accessed by all for free would be the answer. I could never have gotten the indepth care I needed without other people helping me and paying for it – and I needed way more than a single 45 or 50 minute appointment a week. That’s not even enough to deal with my problems for a day. Even now I need to be seen three times a week. Basically my entire week is therapy and training around how to be able to manage the things that come up for me at work, then working part time. Mr Halim is right.

    1. Many thanks, “neighbor” for your wise heartfelt words – I wish that our city officials and the “do – gooders” that unconditionally support Connections for the Homeless would listen to your story. By any standard, you can be considered a real success; you’ve a right to be very proud of yourself! Keep up the good work…

      Addressing one’s mental (and even physical) health issues, getting assistance with work training, and housing can be absolutely overwhelming, especially when you feel isolated and helpless – I’ve been there, and to the point of despair that I didn’t care whether I lived or not…

      The thing about Connections is that they *do* have some great services staff – case managers, two clinical therapists, a nurse and and a nursing assistant, housing/benefits locaters – and also comprehensive outside resources that are available to anyone. Health costs are free, with County Care/Medicaid…

      But they follow the very flawed “Do No Harm” model that enables failure, where no one is *required” to access these services that they so desperately need. A robust program would screen for homeless folks that wanted to improve their lot, not just accepting the many who are unmotivated to improve. Thus at the Margarita you have some who are striving for life stability and succeed, and then the loafers who are simply there to suck up resources and cause mayhem; some have been there for years now, doing nothing…

      It’s a shame that Evanston can’t do better…

      Respectfully,
      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  14. I forgot to write that I needed help therapy like that for several years. I think I started getting help in more than 14 years ago now.

  15. I too, am not indifferent to the needs of the homeless , but like Mr. Halim I believe that providing housing is only a part of a much more complex issue. Housing will help minimize the visuals that upset people: tent encampments, panhandling, unsightly trash, loud disruptive behavior, etc.- all of which make us cringe and want to look away.
    Connections “Housing First” approach seems to fall short of the additional steps needed to help individuals overcome the many issues which led them to their current situation. Unless the plan is to house these people indefinitely, eventually they will leave the Inn and return to the community and then what?
    No, I’m not against this project, I’m only against what seems to be an ill conceived, poorly thought through Evanston project which looks like both a potential community burden as well as a potential disservice to the very clientele they are promising to serve.
    I believe that Evanston can (can and should) do better!

  16. Gay Evanston loves Mr. Halim and the Halim family! They care for our safety, security, bring us amazing art and have gay employees in the highest positions in their company. Don’t let them get you down, Mr. Halim. We trust you and are sure that you know what you’re doing and will come out successful no matter what.

  17. Just a curiosity– how might the presence of the Margarita Inn impact Mr. Halim’s investment in The King Home property located across the street from the Inn? Could he not be directly invested in the outcome of the future of the Inn and its residents, including, as well, the location of his Clock Museum next door? Does he somehow view its future as a threat to his investments?

    “Not in my neighborhood” appears to be the rallying cry.
    Conversely, I hear the cry, “if not Evanston, then who will provide for those in need?”

    1. Actually, Ms. Brewster, it appears you have not read what he wrote. Get people REAL HELP instead of approving something that is already failing.

    2. I know Mr. Halim and his family, and I can *assure* you that they would be 100% in favor of a well – run and safe shelter adjacent to their properties. Mr. Halim is a generous and civic – minded person, and nothing would make him prouder if the Margarita Inn were a model of effective homeless services; he would provide very generous support if this were the case. As another Margarita neighbor, I’d love to volunteer and give other assistance to the Margarita – as I’ve done with Lincoln Park Shelter in Chicago, Catholic Charities, and some other places; other 4th Ward neighbors would do the same…

      This is not about “money” – it’s about doing the morally upright and responsible thing in assisting others to better their lives – which Connections IMO currently is not doing with the Margarita Inn…

      Respectfully,
      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

    3. Ms Brewster,
      You seem to be suggesting that Mr Halim should not be concerned about a threat to the life that he has built for himself here in Evanston. I have to ask, why it should be acceptable for him and what he has built to be sacrificed in pursuit of these goals?
      And why should the rest of us also not fight to protect what we have here? Do we not matter at least as much as the homeless?

    1. I watched these videos. CFH cannot by law have a do not contact the police policy for issues inside the Margarita (if that is really what it is). What that does is impede an employees right to protest, call out or discuss issues in the workplace. That is a violation of Section 7 within the NLRA / NLRB. The NLRB has jurisdiction over non union not-for-profits the same as they do for any unionized company.
      I suggest (if this is accurate) their employees consult a plaintiffs side employment and labor attorney to discuss what (if any) of their rights have been hindered.

  18. This is scary.
    I cannot imagine that any councilmember would be ok with this being next to their home. I really want to hear the Mayor saying he would be ok living next to this after watching these videos. Or City Manager Luke Stowe. If either of them are reading- or if there is a reader who knows either- please ask them to watch these videos and confirm that they would be ok living or working next to this.

  19. Interesting!! None of the comments above – as well as almost all appearing in threads following previous articles on this topic here in Evanston Now – are in favor of this project. In addition, why is Connections taking in people from other communities? To increase their population so as to secure additional funding? Where/How/On whom would that money be spent? Focusing on those in need in the city of Evanston in a holistic manner is needed. That assistance must cover more than a roof over ones head. Services to enhance success provided in a transparent model is not evident at this time. Evanston deserves a better approach. Thank you so much, Mr. Halim, for your efforts to get our city officials to listen to those of us affected by this project.

  20. I am glad that there are proposals for changing the focus of the MI to treatment and not just housing. My only thought re the MI that was not already expressed was that Connections takes no responsibility for what residents do when not on the property. I was on the email thread as the GNA was being drawn up and this is part of their stated policy.
    So I agree the residents should be limited in number and should have a desire for getting help to improve their lives, beyond just a roof over their head.
    As a nearby neighbor I am sad to say that I had considered Evanston my forever home and now feel like it is time to look elsewhere.
    Other reasons include the mismanagement of city finances which started under Wally but is now growing exponentially makes it more unfeasible to stay here. Many taxpayers can not afford bearing the cost of every liberal agenda being proposed by our current city council while we are driving away so many small businesses.
    This bad planning, a lack of caring for the community as a whole and letting the city lose what once was valued business is something that will be hard for Evanston to recover from.
    It was a joke seeing the “Evanston Thrives” stickers on the city sidewalks when all around us the city was doing the opposite.

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