Clare Kelly.

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) says Evanston should require Connections for the Homeless to dramatically reduce the number of homeless people it houses at the Margarita Inn.

In an interview with Evanston Now, Kelly said she believes the property should be a “mixed use” development with only a portion of it used to serve the homeless.

As an example of “mixed use,” Kelly said that in Oak Park, where the 65-room Write Inn Hotel was converted to a shelter during the pandemic by Housing Forward, the Hemingway’s Bistro restaurant located in the hotel has continued to operate.

Housing Forward’s website says the hotel has “55 living spaces” for the homeless. That compares to 46 rooms at the Margarita, suggesting that the Write Inn may actually house more homeless individuals at a time than the Margarita does.

Housing Forward’s executive director, Lynda Schueler, says the group housed 297 people during just the first year of the pandemic.

And after initially housing the homeless at four different west-suburban hotels early the crisis, Housing Forward President Heidi Vance said the Village of Oak Park approached the group about making the Write Inn the single location to house clients.

Vance told the Wednesday Journal the move “would be more sustainable in the long term, make it much easier for case workers to connect with clients, allow clients to get into permanent housing more quickly and improve their overall health.”

But Kelly says, “It’s far more important to model a good program than to max out a building.”

She said she’s “done a lot of research on other cities” and that “24 people is about the maximum size” for a well-run homeless shelter.

Kelly also says she’s skeptical about the city’s plan to develop a standard license for all hotel, rooming house and dormitory-like facilities, and then negotiate detailed operating agreements with each property owner.

She argues the city doesn’t have the resources to develop strong operating agreements or the staff to enforce them.

One option, Kelly suggested, would be to have the city buy the Margarita Inn and then hire a non-profit agency to run it on a year-to-year contract.

That way, she suggested, the city would be in a stronger position to enforce whatever rules it sets, rather than having an agency, like Connections own the building.

Connections currently has a contract to purchase the Margarita from its private owner, with the non-profit awaiting a city decision on its special use zoning request and other regulatory issues before closing the deal.

Kelly acknowledged that it might be difficult for the city to come up with the money to acquire the building.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. The money spent buying MI will look like a good investment compared to a diwntown that is empty other than vagrants.

    1. Buying the building is a great idea – rather than the city, a private group that has the resources and imagination to restore it to a world class residential hotel with restaurant as it was before and the rooftop entertainment space.

      With the clock museum next door, this would be a fine adjunct space for weddings and other events!!!

      1. Bravo to both—-excellent suggestions—-hopefully this kind of common sense will prevail—-the Margarita screams for remaining a classy hotel with fine restaurant

  2. But people are literally unhoused! Where are they supposed to go? Simply pushing them out of downtown doesn’t mean they have housing. I am so disgusted that so many in Evanston would rather other humans live on the street “somewhere else” than have safe housing next door.

    1. Jen, connections is importing unhoused from other neighboring municipalities. There is the false narrative that Margarita is filled with local Evanston citizens down on their luck. This type of misplaced empathy is what let CFH to get their foot in the door to begin with. They are quite adept and working the well intentioned citizens of Evanston in order to grow their business. Evanston has more shelter beds and affordable housing per capita than anywhere in the area. It’s time Chicago , the surrounding municipalities and other States step up their game to help out with these problem. We are already absorbing a disproportionate amount from the burden.

      1. 80% of the Margarita residents are from Evanston. While there are neighbors who oppose this use, there are many neighbors who are in favor of it, including residents of 1020 Grove. Many neighbors worked to craft the Good Neighbor Agreement. The idea that the city, which has no experience working with the homeless and not much of a track record on addressing the housing crisis, would be better at running this than Connections is not credible.

        1. Hello Marybeth,
          I have long admired your advocacy in Evanston. However, on this issue you are mistaken. The neighbors were not part of this agreement. They have, collectively, had consistently (almost 3 years now) poor interactions with Connections, the upper management, and this program. It is also unacceptable for the neighbors to live next to an entity that refuses cooperation with police. Regarding those who live at 1020 Grove, they do not have the same experience as other residents. The building at Grove is a full operation designed to have as many services within the building itself. It has beautiful amenities including beautiful dining options, large in-house staff, 24 hour concierge and security etc etc. The large majority of neighbors do not have any of these in their day to day lives. When we find people high on drugs sleeping in our laundry room, we are not having the same experience as those at 1020 Grove. I urge you to reconsider your support of this program, It is neither well run, nor transparent.

        2. So, Ms. Schroeder, *who* exactly *are* the parties that “crafted” this “agreement”? Per a recent FOIA request, the City supplied a Good Neighbor Agreement and it was only signed by Mayor Biss and Betty Bogg – there was no listing of these “dozens” of “supportive” residents, businesses, or other “stakeholders”…

          Per several media reports – including here at ‘Evanston Now’ IIRC – the original GNA process was abandoned after a number of local neighbors had their intelligence insulted by Connections management – they had a “my way or the highway!” attitude that did not sit well. All talking points were “pre – planned”, with the requisite “answers” provided solely by Connections management staff. This was confirmed by many of my neighbors who were initially interested in the process, and also a Margarita Inn staff member who I keep in regular touch with…

          I’ve talked to every business in the immediate area of the Margarita Inn and not *one* is supportive of the Margarita – in fact, several of them have had so much trouble with disruptive vagrants, druggies, etc. that several are seriously considering *moving* out of the area. Don’t be surprised if you favorite bakery, pizza place, or currency exchange decamps to safer environs! The owner of the liquor store on Davis, especially, has had a great number of incidents occur – and he said this stuff rarely if ever happened before the Margarita opened. The owner of the little corner store on Davis and Maple has had severe shoplifting problems since the Margarita opened…

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

        3. Connections consistently says that the majority of the residents have a tie to Evanston. This is a sneaky way of getting around the fact that a tie could mean ANYTHING. If you ask them to have a random check of residents, they say that is against their policies and harassment. So this false narrative of the Margarita Inn residents being mainly from Evanston is perpetuated but false. They say it, refuse to have it randomly verified and well respected people like you spew it back.
          On the Good Neighbor issue, most of the adjacent neighbors and businesses do not want it. Grown adults with addiction issues living in a space where their addictions are not addressed next door to women with children, the whole thing is so shameful. So many people commenting on this do not live near me or the Margarita and I am tired of hearing them tell us what we should live with on Oak Street.

    2. 1) It’s not safe housing. It’s not *sober* housing. They don’t let police in the building. Connections lets people slowly succumb to addictions. They don’t require that people seek treatment as a condition for living there. The population has, statistically, 50% substance, alcohol, and mental problems. Statistically, 75% of them are single men as well. (Look up low barrier shelter population if you want, that’s what we have here.) It’s no good place for Evanston’s women and children.

      2) The Margarita has attracted more people than it can house. These aren’t Evanston’s own ‘unhoused,’ but people coming from all over Cook County. These people are in fact already sleeping on the street, and the public parks, and the schools nearby. They don’t come from Evanston.

      We in the neighborhood would support a SAFE and SOBER transitional housing facility that serves Evanston first. This isn’t it.

      1. They do let police in the building, what makes you think any part of Evanston would not fall under the jurisdiction of Evanston police? Also, of course the people there have higher rates of addiction and mental illness- they’re homeless individuals. You can’t have a homeless shelter with only the “cream of the crop” of society!? Then nobody would be let in! Homeless do not have an address where they live, so how can you say they’re not “from here”, and if they are not at the Margarita they will be more in downtown and in parks and near schools, they won’t just disappear.

        1. It is public record that other municipalities in the surrounding area pay CFH to take their unhoused. Please tell me the next closest city that dedicates more resources to the problem of homelessness? It is ridiculous to expect Evanston to solve the problem on its own. The burden needs to be shouldered much more broadly. If CFH weren’t so poorly run and arrogant about partnering with the neighbors in that area things might have gone differently.

        2. “How can they not allow the police?” This is exactly the response I had when I heard that the police had been turned away at the Margarita. But apparently they can. There are multiple instances of this on the police reports, and then-Chief Eddington can also attest to the Margarita’s non-cooperation.

          As for wanting the “cream of the crop” – you may not be aware that not all homeless shelters are the same. A ‘low barrier’ shelter is what the Margarita currently is. They accept ANYBODY except sex offenders. This includes people with criminal violence histories, addictions, and severe mental illnesses. There are literally drug deals on the street outside the Margarita. I’ve seen them, living really close to the building.

          “I met a dealer who told me he drives to Evanston daily to deliver drugs to his homeless clients. I then watched multiple deals happening just outside a controversial housing program called the Margarita inn.”

          We want a ‘high barrier’ shelter that does not allow drug and alcohol use on the premises. This is a reasonable ask. Not only would it get drug deals out of our neighborhood which the Margarita has directly brought in, but it would provide safe, sober, and family-acceptable temporary housing to ALL Evanston residents who may need help. Especially families with kids who attend our public schools.

        3. ev9, while I understand your indignation, the staff at the Margarita are trained to invoke the so-called “Homeless Bill of Rights” to block police from entry. Corporation Counsel Cummings has mentioned this as a point of contention between the city and Connections. You make a great point that no place should be secreted from Evanston police. I totally agree.

          These folks are those who cannot gain housing otherwise due to mental illness, addictions, criminal backgrounds – a so-called “low barrier” to entry. In fact that, too, is a point of contention as they are not subject to abstinence or recovery requirements, nor is treatment required, though Connections has stated it makes these options available. Basically, these folks have housing for as long as they want and some have been there for the past 2 years or more.

          Those who are evicted from the facility for drug dealing or sex work, for instance are simply sent to the street – they certainly don’t disappear. So there is real impact from bringing hard-to-manage cases into Evanston, then “dismissing” them from the facility to the city at large. It is unknown what, if any, responsibility Connections takes for the people they bring in to the city, then evict from the facility.

          1. Jen—-the follow up comments to your concerns have been extremely well stated—-I live at Ridge and Davis in a building that shares alley space with the Connections managed Margarita Inn—-the routinely occurring undesirable and illegal activities by current residents is something you’d never tolerate in your neighborhood, nor would Mayor Biss or any alderman supporting the plan…It’s time for all residents of Evanston to fully understand what’s going on at The Margarita under CFH management—-it’s far from any kind of warm and fuzzy housing for the less fortunate…pay close attention to what’s really going on—-the neighborhood has schools and children that demand a safe and secure environment

        4. As a former Connections employee, I can state with certainty that Margarita Inn management will do *anything* to avoid involving the police – including refusing entry for *any* even legitimate reason. Margarita Inn management gives *strict* instructions to both staff and guests about this; it was in fact part of my new employee orientation…

          Connections uses the “Homeless Bill of Rights” as a “shield” in this case – in their eyes, Margarita guests are “above the law”, e.g. a “protected class”…

          This is a matter of public record, it has been reported in a number of local news outlets… a simple Google search will turn up a number of references to this…

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

      2. If you would like a list of all the things Connections tells “mistruths” about, follow their Instagram and Facebook- they work hard on charm campaigns to address the criticisms people have instead of trying to actually do a better job. Yesterday’s post was how many people were involved in the GNA…. If they post it, I know it’s a cover up.

        1. Yeah, it’s pretty bald – faced. On Facebook, they crow about the “Dozens of neighbors in the stakeholder process, including business owners, renters, single – family homeowners, and condo owners” involved in the GNA process, but the illustration post shows only the signatures of Betty Bogg and Biss. Also, the link to the GNA document itself has *no* names on the document. Here is the link to the post – and they also mention their “detractors”: “Some of our fiercest detractors refused to participate in the process, even after repeatedly being invited…”

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

  3. What makes you think the Margarita is “safe housing”? Those who live near it know two things 1. It’s not safe. Drugs , fighting, and scary anti social behavior have skyrocketed around the Margarita. 2. Connections imports people from other suburbs to Evanston. Evanston does not have a growing homeless population. Connections imports other community’s unhoused so they have ongoing demand. The people you see unhoused have likely been brought to Evanston by Connections. Last- if you ask Connections to prove anything, they will refuse. There is no documentation to support any of their statements.

  4. As long as Connections is running the program, it will be full of problems. Whether the City owns the building or not. They are not the people to run a shelter. They should go back to the services they provided pre Covid.

  5. Congratulations to Council Member Kelly for her courage to think rationally about other solutions and avoiding the virtue signaling group think the Mayor and fellow council members practice continually.

    It is enlightening (and at the same time reassuring) that most comments posted on any homeless/Margarita Inn/Connections articles indicate a strong opposition to the organization Connections for the Homeless versus opposition to addressing Evanston’s homeless.

    It is a dangerous disservice to all involved for our elected officials and City staff to not perform the appropriate due diligence and research so that the most feasible, effective, and successful solution is created for Evanston.

  6. Connections is a key source of Evanston’s ward 4 and downtown decline. Biss doesn’t believe it because he lives in the backyard of Old Orchard where this disorder would never be allowed. He “just doesn’t see it.”

    On the rare occasion we dine in Evanston, we drive, even if just a few blocks, because we don’t know what we’re going to face from Connections latest dangerous import or discharge to our neighborhood.

    When they get really bad people, they discharge them to our streets to degrade our safety.

    How can Niewsma and Biss not see the clear issue here with connections horrible operations?

    1. Why would the mayor live in the “backyard of Old Orchard”? I’ve never seen vagrants at Old Orchard and I sometimes shop there. It is a nice mall. I am often asked for money in Evanston but never at the mall. Does the mayor live by the mall in Skokie?

      1. The Mayor lives near the mall/Skokie border. He doesn’t appear to have a grip on the situation downtown Evanston and “doesn’t see it”

        Skokie’s vagrants and panhandlers come to Evanston.

  7. Today I spoke with one of the newer residents at the Margarita. I recognized him as being a regular panhandler who has always been nice to me and my dogs. He wears a big red coat and has distinctive teeth. He has always been nice to me and never asked for money.

    When I saw him today he was panhandling in front of Target.
    I noticed him walk into the Margarita last night at 7:20pm. So I asked him today how it’s going there. He told me his room is cold. I then asked him about the drug use in within the Margarita – he replied that he stays away from that stuff but it’s there. This particular guy is a nice man with some learning disabilities who has always been decent. I’ve seen him often over the last 2 years in front of benisons or Starbucks. Still, I don’t think that he should be panhandling when he is getting free housing and food. I just hope he gets the help he needs, isn’t corrupted by the drug use within the Margarita, and his room is warmer.

  8. Sorry, but the story doesn’t play out. You are among the gullible residents of Evanston.

    I believe this same person is the one that pushed me and used a very appropriate racial slur against me recently. Please do not promote the idea that these aggressive panhandling vagrants are just good guys, you are disillusioned.

    1. I’m far from naive or gullible. I am against Connections for the Homeless take over of the Margarita and live nearby. Your point is well taken. Many of the people there may be aggressive to some of us and not others. I have been a victim of verbal assault and intimidation by residents of the Margarita. Just because red coat is nice to me- he may still be a danger to others. We shouldn’t have to walk around on eggshells because of what Connections does or does not do. I am a very fair minded person and look at things from all sides. But gullible I’m not. Ive written emails dating back over 2 years to the mayor and Biss about my concerns. I’ve shown videos of harassment. My point of my comment was to demonstrate my interaction. Yours is different. And again – I think Connections for the Homeless is a scam Exploiting the grant money to claim they help more than they do. But as for red coat – he has never been an issue to me like many others have.

      1. I do support helping the homeless but I do not support the Margarita Inn and I specifically do not support Connections for the Homeless.

        In 2020, Connections only paid out $7 million (51%) of its $14 million in revenue. Salaries and benefits were $4.4 million (an amazingly high 32%) in 2020, up from $3.1 million in 2019. The net profit of Connections in 2020 was $1.2 million.

        Connection’s Form 990 for 2021 has not been filed yet. It was due in November 2022, but Connections got an extension to May 16. I’d love to see the 2021 Form 990. Why? Evanston gave Connections $1,036,455 in FY 2021. Skokie gave $168,219 and Northfield gave $2,221. Wilmette and Winnetka gave $0.

  9. Evanston already offers housing through Connections & the YWCA for women/ children. The YMCA also offers housing (for a small fee) to men (I think over 100 live there now). My understanding is with the Margarita Inn, we will have more beds than actually homeless people IN Evanston. And if in the future it turns out there are more homeless people than beds, why can’t Wilmette/Winnetka/Glencoe/Highland Park/Lake Forest build a shelter? Furthermore, due to a series of blunders and outright mistruths, residents do not trust Connections, rightfully so. It’s too late to mend the relationship. I suppose mandating fewer beds is one way to put a tiny band aid on this mess. Stopping it from existing altogether sounds like an even better idea, but I think it’s too late for that.

    1. In 2021, Evanston gave more than $1 million to Connections; Skokie gave $168,219; Des Plaines gave $3,136; and Northfield gave $2,221. What did Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, and Lake Forest give? Nothing, not one single dollar.

      This data is from Connection’s 2021 financial report which is available online.

    2. Small fees $700/month for a room without shower, no toilet, some rooms with no sink!!

  10. She has never run a business. A business cannot buy a 50 room hotel double occupancy and being told they can use it it only for only 20 people. They could not get a loan. Things in the hotel business have moved on and it would make no sense to keep the place as a hotel proper just to satisfy the guy next door. The shelter has to stay right were it is. It has just to stop importing homelessness, Cook County folks, bed ridden hospital individuals from Chicago that is for sure will never get back on their feet in Evanston then tapping the community for help, like meals.

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