The executive director of Connections for the Homeless says the Evanston-based non-profit agency is in the midst of reassessing its funding options after a wave of growth triggered by the pandemic.
“It’s always been our intention to replace at least some of the federal money with private dollars,” Betty Bogg tells Evanston Now. “We’ve done fundraising throughout the years, and now we have to expand our capacity to raise private funds.”
From annual spending of just $4.8 million in the fiscal year ending in June 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, the agency grew to have $14.5 million in expenses for its fiscal year that ended in June 2022.
The pandemic made the previous model of providing congregate, overnight-only shelter a health risk, and led to its replacement with longer-term shelter solutions in which the sheltered have private rooms.
Connections reports that of its $14.5 million 2022 budget, $8.7 million went to support Evanston residents. (The rest was spread across more than 50 other north suburban communities.)
It received about $1.1 million from the City of Evanston that year, almost all of it pass-through of federal aid dollars received by the city. It also received about $1.5 million from Evanston-based families and foundations. The rest, nearly $6.1 million, came federal, state and county grants and non-Evanston based donors.
Bogg says that while much federal funding has dried up, Cook County is continuing to fund operating costs for the Margarita Inn shelter in Evanston as well as some of the cost for the drop in center on Dewey Avenue.
And Bogg says she feels “pretty confident” that the county will take on the cost of purchasing the Margarita for the agency from its private owner.
The agency’s next big capital project is renovation of Hilda’s Place, the former overnight congregate shelter in the basement of Lake Street Church.
Late last year U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) announced a $2 million federal grant that’s anticipated to cover about half the cost of that project.
But Bogg says the agency is still negotiating with the city over the potential design and capacity of that space.
“It’s quite a large space, but a bit of a maze, in the oldest public building in the city,” Bogg says.
“If we could go in and gut it, we might get 40 to 60 beds in there,” she added, “but the tricky part is that the city’s zoning code for transitional shelters only allows 30.”
Bogg spoke at Monday’s Human Services Committee meeting in support of a proposal from Ald. Devon Reid (8th) that would give her agency a one-time grant of $1.25 million from the city’s general fund reserves.
But she says she doesn’t “just count on Evanston to fill” the agency’s budget gap on an ongoing basis.
Reid’s proposal advanced, but amid major questions from other council members about its size, structure and impact.