Evanston’s Land Use Commission ended up with a tie vote Wednesday night after its second hearing on the special use request to continue operation of the Margarita Inn as a homeless shelter.

That means the proposal will advance to the City Council with no recommendation from the commission.

It represents a switch from the commission’s first vote on Nov. 30, when commissioners came down 5-3 in favor of the Connections for the Homeless plan for the building at 1566 Oak Ave.

The reopened hearing was forced by a circuit court ruling sought by Cameel Halim, owner of the Halim Time & Glass Museum next door at 1560 Oak.

Cameel Halim.

Halim persuaded the court that under the city code the commission was required to grant him a continuance of the original hearing to prepare testimony in opposition to the proposal — a move the commission had denied in the belief that it had discretion about whether to grant such a continuance.

Connections supporters in blue “We Are All Inn” T-shirts filled the council chamber.

Connections had recruited supporters to turn out for the hearing in blue “We Are All Inn” T-shirts, but, because the commission had concluded public comment on the project at its original hearing last fall, they were not allowed to speak Wednesday night.

Halim presented expert witnesses who argued that the homeless shelter operation had depressed property values in the immediate neighborhood, but Connections’ experts, who had testified last fall that there was no reduction in property values, disputed the methodology the new witnesses used.

Tom Wolf.

Also appearing in support of Halim’s objections was Tom Wolf, founder of the Pacific Alliance for Prevention and Recovery in San Francisco

Wolf, who described himself as a recovering drug addict, said the Connections for the Homeless “low barrier” shelter model — also used in San Francisco, had led to his city becoming “the epicenter of the overdose crisis in the United States.”

He predicted a similar future for Evanston if the Margarita shelter continues to operate on its existing model.

He said there have been at least three overdose deaths inside the Margarita and that the shelter’s problems cast a pall on the community, hurting businesses, and affecting rents and the tax base.

John Hewko.

Commissioner John Hewko was the only LUC member who had been absent from the meeting last fall who was present Wednesday.

He said he was struggling with the conflicting testimony about the shelter, but had concluded he should vote against it because of the negative cumulative effect on property values.

“I fully recognize that we do need to deal with the homeless problem in the city,” he said, but he added that the city needed a different approach “to see if we can be leaders” on the issue.

Three commissioners who had voted at the November meeting — two in favor and one opposed to the shelter — were absent Wednesday night.

Among the five commissioners who were present for both sessions, none of them changed their votes Wednesday.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Connections and Hilda’s incentivize bad actors from all over Chicagoland to come to Evanston.

    An hour ago, a vagrant carrying a dead rabbit stood in front of Peet’s coffee, screaming “homeless, Margarita Inn.” He followed a young father and two grade school daughters walking on Chicago Avenue. He threatened them with the dead rabbit. Police and animal control came. They let him go.

    He then proceeded down Sherman, screaming “homeless, Margarita Inn” and getting in front of people.

    Police confirmed: his name is SEBASTIAN – white 50/60s male, 160#. If he approaches, quickly walk the other way for your own safety!! Last seen in front of Starbucks on Sherman

    Police are castrated from doing anything, thanks to our woke City Council.

    1. man, between this and Angie M/Angela/Homeless Person posting in comments on this site, we sure are getting a different view of what the clients think of the neighborhood and town at large. Good neighbors indeed.

    2. I was there when he was on Chicago Ave by Whole Foods. He was very loud while carrying the dead rabbit by one leg, holding it up to people as he yelled at them through Peets windows, to them on the sidewalk, and in their cars. And he just kept yelling. It was chilling.

  2. From what I can tell the Margarita Inn is presently operating in violation of building ordinances. Can someone tell me why they are being allowed to continue to operate?

    1. They’re using money.
      The coercion tactic being used is making everyone not want to speak out against their flawed ideal for fear of being branded: heartless racist troublemaker NIMBY.
      Something is off. The more of us to notice and speak out, the better chance we have to get the “right” shelter operating within Evanston, whether operated inside the Margarita Inn or any other location.

    2. Yeah, I facepalmed as one of the guys stumbled through what would happen if the Margarita violated their license. “Well, uh, they’d… uh kinda lose their license to operate.” So. Freaking. What. They’re in violation NOW. They don’t HAVE a license. You think if they lost their license they’d leave?

      And, I noticed that another guy (Rogers?) kinda chuckled about the massive packet of papers he didn’t have time to read. Too bad, the papers detail the notable police reports, including a gun incident in 2020, Fentanyl overdoses, drug dealing, battery, etc. It’s all there. Talk about burying the lede, presenters!

      And do ANY of the local schools know about this? I’m sure Roycemore and Dewey and the Montessori school nearby would be quite concerned to hear that there was a gun incident.

      Do-good citizens who are ‘All Inn’ need to wake up. The weapons and drugs literally in my backyard (I can take a photo of the back alley from my window) scare the hell out of me and my 15 year old son. I cannot wait to leave, but we’re going to try to stick it out until high school graduation.

      1. Katherine, I was scheduled to speak, as a representative of our “Concerned Neighbors” group that crafted the “alternative” GNA…

        However, when the meeting commenced, Mr. Halim’s attorney was told that there would be a “20 minute limit” on our presentations – *whatever* that means. The attorneys for our side protested, but no avail. So I was not given a chance to speak, “apparently” because my points had already been made in the “1566 Oak Avenue – Exhibits Submitted on 4/24/2023” at this link:


        I sat on the CFTH side of the room, and I was appalled at some of the unprofessional behaviors I saw, especially by Nia Tavoularis, who led the “snickering brigade” when our members were speaking; she also otherwise made a point of standing beside me and *speaking very loudly* – I’d be terminated if I acted that childishly at my job…

        Then there were many “I’m All Inn!” supporters who were angrily buzzing when informed that spoken public comments at this particular meeting would not be permited per LUC protocol (they could be submitted online)…

        The reasoning of one LUC member who voted in favor was (paraphrasing), “Well, crime is a lot worse elsewhere than it is around the Margarita, so I don’t see the point of bringing up any Margarita crime issues, you are lucky to live in a low – crime area” (!!!)…

        “Oh, well…”

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

    3. What are they doing that is so wrong? They provide meals, clothing, showers medical and assistance in finding housing. all people have mental health issues but when you don’t have insurance it’s hard to find a doctor you can communicate with

  3. Glad that the LUC has some members with enough functioning brain cells to think critically about this mess. Can it be long before the Same Thirty People infiltrate and take over the Commission, along with everything else in Evanstonia?

  4. A hypothetical for the three LUC commissioners that voted yes.

    Assume you own a condo next to the Margarita Inn. The city approves a homeless shelter to be located next door to your condo. The day after the approval, is your condo worth more or less?

    If you think the answer is yes, then I have one to sell you.

    If you think the answer is no, you can’t support the approval of the Margarita Inn since one of the conditions of approval – per city code – is that the value of nearby properties cannot go down as a result of the decision.

    Since this decision is now punted to the city council, I call on our nine aldermen – sorry, eight aldermen since Devon Reid needs to recuse himself – to end this fiasco and start the process over.

    You are elected to serve the citizens of Evanston and the citizens do not want a homeless shelter in the Margarita Inn.

    1. I don’t know about everyone else, but I live quite close – my window overlooks the back alley and the back of the Margarita. And I do support a shelter, even this close, but not a ‘low barrier’ one that admits felons, addicts, etc. I’m quite freaked out after reading the police reports, and that’s just the stuff we KNOW. Many incidents don’t get reported, especially by women.

      I hope Nieusma and Biss start listening to the moms of Evanston. Their kids are young now, but all they have to do is blink, and their daughters are going to be teens who want to ride their bikes to Starbucks and hang out with their friends. Would they be All Inn with letting their kids go downtown independently? I predict they’ll both move to Wilmette long before then.

      1. Tom Wolf, President of Pacific Alliance For Prevention And Recovery, spoke at the LUC meeting, this is from a paper he authored that was in our “1566 Oak Avenue – Exhibits Submitted on 4/24/2023” packet … very sobering, some excerpts:


        “My colleagues and coworkers in San Francisco, Portland, and Denver have been watching the events of the Margarita Inn unfold over the past 2+ years. The history of this application, Connections for the Homeless logic, requests, and well as their relationship with the neighbors are eerily familiar. This is because our towns and cities on the West Coast were in the same meetings with a non-profit just like Connections, oftentimes with a partner just like what you call “Interfaith.” We have attended the same meetings, heard the sane requests from governing bodies, and the boilerplate answers given by HUD funded nonprofits in our cities – but that is 30 years ago…

        We know and have experienced the situation in front of you, and if you look at our cities, you will see, in real time, what you can expect to find in Evanston if Connections for the Homeless continues to skate through local governments. If you are to fast forward 30 years from now your city will look like our cities…

        I would like to encourage you to be responsible stewards of your city and look beyond the rhetoric surrounding this hotel application. Connections has used a broad brush to label those opposed to a low barrier homeless shelter in their community as NIMBYS who “hate the homeless”- those who lack inclusivity, and are racist. This is the standard tried and true technique powerful non-profits use to manipulate communities and detractors into silence and, therefore, compliance. The reality, however, is much more complicated…”

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

  5. Living next door to the Margarita with my bedroom window right by their parking lot. Very annoying listening to loud arguments and just conversations especially listening to the sound of the carts wheels that’s being used to cart their garbage every 3 hours particularly 1 a.m., 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.. Let’s not forget about all the drug trafficking out front from cars pulling up for the drug users staying at the Margarita. The mayor and councilman are not interested in the safety and well-being of citizens living in Evanston. They are also in violation under ADA concerning the crosswalks that need repairs making it impossible to travel using my wheelchair. In my opinion the citizens of Evanston needs to contact Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky concerning our taxes being used to find millions of dollars to Connections when they allow drug/alcohol abuse including drug trafficking

  6. I am a landlord who has connections residents in my units. Every day I regret renting to them. They have no life skills. There are guns and drugs in the building and my building has bullet holes and filth after I spent thousands of dollars to prepare for the new tenant. If you are a landlord, stay away from connections clients. They have no training about living with other people and once they are in your building they bring havoc and chaos on one hand and on the other hand they have every non profit and evanston legal advisors writing letters about their rights so that you cannot get rid of them.

  7. I don’t know why I still do, but I really do hope this ends with Connections gone. I thank everyone who is still trying to get through, who believes that the City could do the correct thing and protect its residents. Like others who have said so in comment strings before, I hope someday I can afford to move.

  8. The young woman discussing child abuse in the building as well as a male resident who was raped by someone who climbed through a window was extremely compelling. I want to understand why there is a sour relationship with police and why Connections does not accommodate police. This posture of shaming people and calling them “racist” or “nimbys” but not fully accounting for the health and well being of their residents easily breeds suspicion. If they really do prevent police from doing investigative work that would be a peoblem in any neighborhood. Also, I had no impression that Mr. Halim is opposed for financial reasons or because he is prejudice against the homeless. It would be very foolish for Connections to continue making such assertions about their detractors. These are very clearly individuals who want the best for the community, which includes the homeless individuals inside the building. Will there be another opportunity to get more information on this application at the next hearing? What happens next?

    1. Ms Joyce, this says it all:

      “Former Chief of EPD Richard Eddington contributed a letter for Evanston Land Use Commission’s 04/26/2023 Meeting Agenda. Of interest is the 351 page “1566 Oak Avenue – Exhibits Submitted on 4/24/2023” document; his letter is on pages 343 – 344. Below some excerpts:


      Statement from Richard Eddington, Chief of Evanston Police Department from 2007- 2018:

      “Between the time they opened (March 2022) and the time I re-retired in October 2022, I have noticed the following:

      1. There is no doubt that, despite the fact the Margarita has a do-not-call 911 policy, they rely very heavily on the Evanston Police, Fire and EMS. Residents inside the Margarita could suffer harm but are discouraged by Connections staff from seeking help.

      2. Connections has refused to share with the City the number of staff and their credentials. I deduce that staffing/training issues result in additional calls for service.

      3. The neighbors’ hesitancy to have this operation at their doorsteps is exacerbated by Connections’ lack of relevant transparency.

      4. IMO there is a clear link to Connections operation at 1566 Oak and the notable increase in disorder in the neighborhood, including assaults, aggressive panhandling, and criminal damage to property.

      Unless an agreement between Connections and Evanston stipulates exactly under what circumstances Connections is compelled to cooperate with the police, this project will bring long-term problems into the City of Evanston.

      Based on Connections’ track record of an unreasonable interpretation of the ‘Homeless Bill of Rights’ and an unwillingness to address inappropriate conduct by their clients, I believe Connections will not be a beneficial partner with the City.
      This will result in continued degradation of the neighborhood and downtown… If Connections is allowed to operate without enforceable City oversight, the efforts to correct the situation will be monumental…”

  9. Majority of the clients staying at the Margarita are collecting SSI Disability either due to mental health or physically disabled. They are provided with a room with all the amenities like cable TV, meals and Connections contribute to their drug/alcohol addiction by allowing them to continue use of it inside the Margarita. Yet, both Connections and Mayor Biss and Johnathan Nieuwsma turn their heads. Yet they claim their mission is helping them. Yeah right. They are not helping them only hindering to their addiction. Those are the same individuals panhandling claiming to be homeless asking for help. Truthfully they need your change to contribute towards the addiction. Ask them if they are willing to do some yard work for some extra cash they will look at you like seriously. STOP giving them money. If they are not willing to help themselves giving them money is not helpful but only encouraging them to being lazy. I’ve been out of work. I have sold my plasma got in line at Ready Men to work a few hours for extra cash. Including get a bucket, a squeegee and go to business to wash windows. Nowadays if you have a bicycle you can deliver food for Grubhub. The weather is starting to warm up with summer weather the situation is going to become much worse. If the city of Evanston doesn’t put some hard love concerning the Margarita become Connections doesn’t have the ability nor guts in doing so. How are you actually helping them. It’s a ripple effect for trouble. Who’s going to be held accountable when the neighborhood near the Margarita becomes infested with drug/alcohol addiction and drug dealers which will lead to a higher crime rate forcing the good citizens to moving out of the neighborhood because Connections refused to do anything at all but collecting money from the federal government. Connections couldn’t handle all the riff rafts of drugs and alcohol during the emergency COVID utilizing the Hilton Orrington. They are not going to do anything concerning the Margarita. I should get into the homeless shelter business seems to be a good business. Don’t forget the new homeless shelter being built on the boarder line on Howard.

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