The Margarita Inn, 1566 Oak Ave. (Google Maps image)

I was so heartened to see all the support and positive responses in two recent news articles in Evanston Now, Neighbor wants LUC to reopen Margarita Hearing and Court blocks action on Margarita, and wish to thank all those who took the time to share their points of view.

I know everyone who has been following this story, and the people I speak with every day, have an unconditional support for the homeless.

However, it seems to me that we are suffering from two types of manipulation.

The first is the manipulation by not-for-profit organizations, in our case, Connections for the Homeless, and the second is the political manipulation associated with the Evanston City Council and the mayor.

First, manipulation by the not-for-profit organization Connections for the Homeless is seen in its insistence that the homeless can be helped only in the manner it thinks best; and anyone who disagrees with its approach is condemned as a “racist” or heartless NIMBY.

Connections runs an operation that, on one hand, claims to be a steward of the City of Evanston, and on the other hand, profits (literally) from exclusive contracts for managing the homeless populations outside of Evanston – including but not limited to Skokie, Barrington, Des Plaines, Joliet, Grayslake, Naperville and all of suburban Cook Country.

That claim gives Connections the means to get large grants and contributions.

With the pandemic came a national explosion in the homeless population and, with it, an equal explosion in Connections’ budget and grants. Further, Connections’ compensation to its executives and employees likewise exploded and all the bravos and praise went to their board of directors.

Under this scenario, Connections’ participant-contributors (such as Skokie, Barrington, etc.) gladly transport their homeless to Evanston and even write checks to Connections.

This transaction shifts the burden from their communities to Evanston, and leaves Evanston responsible to manage this influx of incoming homeless.

This crowding out of public services diminishes the social service resources available to Evanston’s own homeless population, which this city has a duty to provide. Additionally, it has a profound negative effect on our downtown area, which is still struggling with the absence of employees returning to their downtown office buildings, and on other local projects that we have worked hard for 50 years to build up.

Additionally, Connections’ interests are limited in scope. For example, Connections focuses on providing lodging for their clients. Sadly, many homeless suffer from mental illness and substance abuse that necessitates treatment.

In spite of the fact that Connections claims to have treatment programs for their clients after providing them housing, the history of their management proves otherwise.

I understand that their success rate is very low and, potentially, many of these residents will become permanently homeless and will wander our streets after this experiment has failed.

Second, we have to consider the political manipulation in this deal. All politicians know a topic close to peoples’ hearts is a sure-fire way to get votes, regardless of who might suffer the most.

In this case, the homeless have been used as political capital. Unfortunately, the 4th Ward residents have been ignored and the 75+ comments in Evanston Now proves the immense frustration and dissatisfaction with this proposed project. Tellingly, not a single comment was in support of the project.

Finally, we can’t ignore the unethical moves that Connections has made in its relationship with city officials – such as some city officials having had missed rent payments paid directly by Connections.

We also know that city officials have attempted to rush the approval of the zoning change quickly without giving us our due process to present the facts of the case.

Additionally, we know that the mayor signed a “Good Neighbor Agreement” on behalf of the residents of the 4th Ward that didn’t take into consideration their concerns.

The meetings held regarding this agreement took place in the Margarita Inn. Almost everyone present was an employee, staff member, or volunteer of Connections. The toothless agreement they eventually signed was drafted by Connections and the City without any real input from the neighbors.

Finally, we also know that Connections has refused to disclose any of the details of its proposed purchase agreement with the owner, or any details of the grants from HUD and the City.

Disclosure is a fundamental good business practice that is being ignored. This puts a cloud of suspicion regarding what concessions may have been granted by the City to get this deal done.

All of these items need to be exposed to the light of day so that the public at large can render their thoughtful opinions on this matter to their elected officials before a vote occurs.

All that said, I am kindly asking for:

  1. The board of directors of Connections for the Homeless to reconsider its
    policies related to transporting out-of-town homeless to Evanston and, in
    the meantime, to consider more help to Evanston’s homeless and to undo
    the harm that has been done to Evanston’s downtown and to reexamine its
    Code of Ethics application.
  2. The mayor to recuse himself from chairing any hearing related to the
    Margarita Inn issue.
  3. Alderman of the 5th & 8th Wards to recuse themselves from voting on any
    matter related to the Margarita Inn.

Update 2/17/23:

I have no specific knowledge of which aldermen may have had their rent paid by Connections, but I believe there has been enough stories circulating to conclude that the 8th ward alderman may have benefited from such an arrangement.

Also, at the end of my essay, I mistakenly referred to the 5th ward alderman, when I meant to say the 4th ward alderman.

I continue to believe that the Mayor and the 4th & 8th ward aldermen should all recuse themselves from this matter.

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.

Join the Conversation


  1. I did not understand that the process behind the Good Neighbor Agreement played out this way. If it as stated, I believe this “leg of the stool” is broken. There is no reason this should move forward any faster than the stadium- public input should be respected, and frankly, giving money to voting politicians does not pass the smell test. Why was this project not properly looked into with a real RFP?

  2. “Disclosure is a fundamental good business practice that is being ignored. This puts a cloud of suspicion regarding what concessions may have been granted by the City to get this deal done.”
    I am a real estate professional and, although I have not reached the level of success as Mr Halim, I do know that best business practices stress Disclosure as necessary “for the protection of the public.” If there are things that Connections and/or the City are not disclosing, specifically things involving public money and tax dollars, this deal should be paused and reviewed with a fine tooth comb. We all have to follow rules in business- whether we make our living by housing homeless persons or selling chocolate cake- the same rules for best practices should apply to all. I have a big problem with non disclosure of financial agreements and the city being in bed with connections.

  3. You forgot to include the patronizing essay , the Mayor wrote, full of moral language, emphasizing our “values” then blatantly soliciting votes. Completely inappropriate to be using his position of power to reach mass numbers of residents, all the while undercutting the neighbors and their concerns. I know his involvement in the neighborhood discussion was limited to his private meeting with Connections. What a low move on behalf of someone who doesn’t even live in the ward. I liked Biss before, but now I have no respect for him after that letter.

  4. If our city officials used their best judgement and hired the Cleaning Team, I believe everything has to be done in order for there to be second and third parties checking the city’s decisions. They cannot get downtown fixed up; every day a new restaurant closes, the downtown looks like a ghost town, and they want to fill it with safe haven stops and homeless shelters. They are failing right before our very eyes. This incident with the clean team is one of many more to come; unless they get some practical people with real managerial skills instead of consultants who have never worked and university professors.

  5. Thank you for speaking up Mr. Halim.
    I said it in an earlier comment but think it’s worth saying again in relation to your letter: I am sad to say that this city is stuck with a mayor who doesn’t have any interest in doing anything that would actually help evanston. Instead he is only interested in making headlines with academic (totally lacking real world insights) policy while he waits for Jan Shakowsky to retire. Can we please make sure that he never gets another chance at government? Mark my words when that happens Nieuwsma will run for mayor. The arrogance of them both! They have zero interest in representing their constituents and it’s obvious.

  6. I support Mr. Halim 100%. He has been more than patient and gracious. His museum is such a credit to the community. But who will go there now if the neighborhood is crawling with panhandlers?

    When the Margarita Inn does not supervise their clients or make any demands on them, and their needs are all provided for, the homeless are free to get drunk or high in their rooms at night and in the street by day. They’re free to panhandle and steal during the day. I cannot see how addicts will be rehabilitated under these circumstances. It will only enable more addiction. That Connections for the Homeless doesn’t want the police to respond to their residents creating disturbances is a deal breaker for me.

    It has been said that it’s racist to object to the homeless presence. I think that’s insulting to black people, to imply all black people are addicts or mentally ill, as so many homeless are. Many black residents of Evanston are employed and leading productive lives; they’re not disreputable and dependent. Many homeless people are homeless because their families don’t want them around because of how they act and live their lives. This is true of homeless whites as well.

    I am dismayed to see Evanston saddled with more than our share of this unwelcome burden. I’m also appalled at some of Alderman Reid’s proposals to make Evanston a bum’s paradise: legalizing throwing rocks, legalizing carrying burglar tools, legalizing all night hanging out in the parks, permitting topless beaches so hookers can promote themselves…the list goes on. I didn’t buy a home here with the expectation that I would be moving into a bad neighborhood. I didn’t expect to be dodging panhandlers and junkies, or wondering when my car will be stripped of parts or broken into. I thought I was coming to a safe, beautiful, cultured community. I’m afraid I was wrong about that.

  7. A “Good Neighbor Agreement” not signed by any of the largest properties owners on the block is such a joke. The Mayor’s personal opinion of what Evanston is should not be a driving factor. My family is 3rd generation here – how insulting to be defined by his personal political agenda. And worse, to assume the property owners like Mr. Halim should subsidize it! And zero interest in what a declining downtown needs to thrive. We need a mayor and aldermen who actually have jobs, work in or with small businesses and are not here to push their thoughts and feelings on the working people of Evanston. I hope you can stop this Mr. Halim and thank you.

  8. Question: I know that Alderman Reid accepted rent help from Connections. Does your comment in #3 at the end mean that Alderman Burns accepted rent help from Connections also?

    1. I was thinking the same thing – did he not pay his rent either?

      Please please please tell me that’s not true. Please don’t tell me we have 2 alders who have not paid their rent. Please tell me that’s not true. I don’t know if I can handle that type of information while I have to pay for a wheel tax.

  9. Mr. Halim, what an interesting and accurate way to frame “Evanston’s” homeless crisis as manipulation.

    Does anyone else feel as though this crisis is the result of our elected officials and Connections for the Homeless haplessly responding to the existing homeless crisis exacerbated by the pandemic? Both the City and Connections are in WAY over their heads and are not able to step back objectively in order to develop the most feasible solutions.

    The City should be listening to experts from other cities who have faced and are beginning to address the homeless crisis effectively.

    The magnet effect that Connections and the City has created is drawing so many “homeless” to Evanston that we can no longer manage the onslaught. The concentration risk of a 70 bed REGIONAL homeless shelter in a City of our size is huge. Add on top of this, the fact that Connections’ operations are not successful in helping their constituents or in being a good neighbor.

    Our City has allowed the operation at Margarita Inn to continue for over two years with no oversight or regulation. They are housing at risk individuals, not puppies.

    And to all Connections benefactors, if you do some research on the Housing First model, scrutinize the operations at Margarita Inn and Hilda’s Place, interview the homeless, and study crime statistics, you may just decide to put that check book away or donate elsewhere.

    1. This is exactly the way I feel. Biss & Nieusma don’t seem to care about us, ‘revitalizing downtown,’ OR solving homelessness for Evanston. We’re just pawns in their local politics game – we peasants have no power. Not even the businesses get any say. If they truly cared about Evanston citizens, they’d want to serve Evanston first, creating a family-friendly environment that the neighbors would get behind.

      But I get it now. Our mayor and 4th ward ‘representative’ are career politicians with greater ambitions. With expert help, they’ll be able to spin away any negative repercussions, such as blighting big sections of downtown.

  10. The analysis above is correct. Too much funny business. They shut it down with bullying. The bullying and name calling is ridiculous and it’s coming from white folks, not black.

  11. Very well put Mr. Halim.

    You are exactly right. For the data to back this up see this excellent article by Bill Smith –

    I wish some one would write an article about how much Connections for the homeless budgets have ballooned.

    According to the 990’s that they filed in 2016 the grants and contributions that connections took in was reported at $3,310,910 and by 2020 it was reported at $13,743,298. That is a huge increase in just four years! They haven’t posted 990’s yet and haven’t made any financial statements or budgets available for 2021 or 2022 when I requested (which I think is a violation of non-for-profit transparency laws but I may be mistaken about that). I would love for some one smarter than me to look in to the budgets.

    1. The explosion in Connection’s funding is a prime example of the encroachment of the “Homeless – Industrial Complex” into our lives. Perversely, the more spent on homeless “programs” the more these programs fail. But, in the name of “equity”, a Betty Bogg or a Mayor Biss or a Nieuwsma craftily repackages these failures and spins them into new ” needs ” – and the funding spigot gushes forth even more public monies. The Margarita Inn is a perfect example of this “funded failure” at work…

      It’s akin to “The Peter Principle” – failing “upwards” ensures further “success”…

      Just look at the billions spent on homeless “programs” in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles – they are now squalid dumps. This is the “model” that Evanston is slavishly imitating…

      It’s all done by *design* – it’s a cruel scam that is draining our coffers and destroying lives and communities…

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

  12. Very well stated Mr. Halim. I am glad that someone is trying to address the manipulation that the community is experiencing by our public officials. The Margarita Inn should not be allowed to stay in the community nor should Evanston have to pick up the responsiblity of homeless people in the northern suburbs, that is ridiculous. The people of Evanston are hard working and have good morals, do not allow yourselves to be manipulated. I am a social worker and have been for over 20 years and I do not agree with Connection for the Homeless operating techniques or the “no harm policy” which allows their residents to drink and use substances. This cycle does not help anyone. I have worked for many non-for profits in my life and I can tell you that non for profits do not always do what they are supposed to do. In the end they are still business owners, but who bring in millions of tax payers dollars, which is not tracked appropriately or always accounted for. They pay their CEO’s and upper staff high saleries, while often not spending the money to actually help the client. As professionals it is our job to help the client’s not enable them. I hope that Mr. Halim is able to finally put an end to this. I am sad and tired to watch the downtown area of Evanston to deteriorate while we are being guilted and manipulated to support this program. I am also confused as to why our alders don’t have employment to support paying their own rent and why was this not noted before as isn’t this a conflict of interest in voting/supporting for this program. This all seems very unethical, but yet the community is being told that we are wrong?

  13. Connections for the Homeless a well-organized outfit of manipulation. As they are a 501C organization, their tax returns are publicly accessible. Here is their 2020 return which shows their grants and funding doubled from 2019 by 6 million.

    I live down the alley of the Margarita and have witnessed drug deals, urinating, fights and more all out my home office window or when I’m walking my dogs. I have been verbally assaulted by a disturbed man there and it took Bogg a long time to get him out (even though I have video). I have donated clothes for some of the residents and Bogg pointed me towards their amazon wish list (seriously?). I tried to work on the Good Neighbor Agreement to have a voice as a tax paying resident with true empathy for the homeless – but I was ignored by those working on it and never knew the outcome until recently. I could go on with facts, but those do not seem to matter to the Mayor or my Alderman, they appear to be only focused on their political ambitions to brag that the 4th Ward has more homeless beds than all other places in Cook County. Well, we also have absurdly high taxes and a government that does not care about the majority of the people in the 4th Ward, or the businesses impacted by this, and a whole lot of panhandling, defecation, urination and litter.

  14. Thank you Mr. Halim for all you’re doing. What the Mayor and Alderman have done in this case is unethical. Most Evanstonians want to help the homeless. However, these people are chronically homeless and need way more than connections is proposing. If the mission is to help Evanston residents who are homeless it would be a different story.

  15. After feeling beaten down and not listened to by both our mayor and our 4th ward alderman, feeling like something is extremely fishy, backroom deals, and sidestepping procedure, I found the start of places to report:

    Here’s the direct link to the form you need:

    I have filled out 3 so far: Mayor Biss, Ald. Nieuwsma & Ald. Reid
    All three have acted without the interest of their constituents, and one of them definitely needs to step out of anything dealing with Connections For The Homeless (Reed for accepting rental assistance from CFH).

  16. Frustrated- I applaud your efforts to file ethics complaints. Sadly, Nick Cummings gutted our ethics procedures year before last. I’d bet money none of your complaints will see the light of day.

    1. Leslie, what ever your bet was, you lost and owe me that money, I received an acknowledgement from Elrod/Friedman LLP who are special council for City’s Code Of Ethics.

  17. If anyone (clearly not from arrogant Connections or our tone deaf alders who continue to ignore the facts) would like to see how an actual Good Neighbor Agreement should be drafted, look up how Bellevue, Washington constructed one for a 100-person shelter in 2021.

    That agreement took nearly a year to draft and involved dozens of hardworking, knowledgeable stakeholders, including the neighborhood residents, the school districts, local businesses, the fire department, the police department, and many more. Traffic patterns were studied. Bike traffic was even considered. Lighting designs were altered. Special patrols were mandated. The list goes on.

    You can bet our mayor put more effort and selfish concern into his pandering “values” email than into the selfless creation of a meaningful, enforceable document that keeps all residents —living both inside and outside the Margarita Inn— safe .

    1. This is how the GNA for Lincoln Park Shelter in Chicago was drafted years ago, and it was a great success. It was *also* legally enforceable from the get – go, unlike the worthless Margarita Inn document. For example, the local Chicago Police Department received continually – updated lists of all potential and eventual shelter guests/clients: this way those with outstanding warrants, sex offenses, Class X felonies and the like were “weeded out” and thus were not welcome in the shelter or the neighborhood. In a typical year there *might* be two or three CPD 911 calls to the shelter – as opposed to the *hundreds* of 911 emanating from the Margarita Inn and their neighbors during the last three years…

      At the time, Lincoln Park Shelter was totally privately funded, so no federal HUD funding mandates that they be required to serve those with serious criminal problems – unlike the Margarita Inn, which is dependent on public funding monies…

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

  18. Thank you, Mr. Halim, for continuing to shine a light on this whole awful mess. I am a former Board member of CFTH and I have been so very, very disappointed by their policies and behavior in this matter that I have sadly concluded that I can not support them any longer. Needless to say, the Mayor and several Alders have lost my respect, support and vote.

  19. Thank you Mr. Halim! 100% with you.
    That neighborhood, the Glass and Time Museum and the Margarita Inn are being ruined. The Museum and the Inn are wonderful additions to our community, which is being becoming a dangerous and unappealing place to live. What about the quality of life for established residents and businesses? I am tired of being accosted everywhere I go and can only imagine how the situation will exacerbated by pot lounges.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *