Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma told residents at a 4th Ward meeting Tuesday night he expects a “good neighbor agreement” for the Margarita Inn homeless shelter to be drafted by mid-November.

Nieuwsma said representatives of several groups — homeowners, condo owners, renters and the faith community — were chosen at a meeting Sunday to participate in developing the agreement.

He said representatives of other groups — including downtown merchants and property owners and the shelter operator, Connections for the Homeless — will be selected shortly.

Operation of the former hotel as a shelter — begun during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — has drawn strong opposition from some neighbors of the building at 1566 Oak Ave.

Nieuwsma said he expects the good neighbor agreement will be ready in advance of a scheduled Nov. 30 Land Use Commission hearing on Connections’ special use request to continue to operate the building as a rooming house.

He said the good neighbor agreement should “establish mutual expectations” between the homeless agency and the neighbors.

Nia Tavoularis.

Connections’ director of development, Nia Tavoularis, said that because the Margarita is primarily funded by Cook County it can’t restrict its clientele only to Evanston residents.

But she said that about 86% of the residents at the shelter are connected to Evanston — that they either live or work or have family in the community.

Tavoularis added that the Margarita is not an emergency shelter — where someone could just show up and be admitted for the night.

Instead, she said, potential residents are first screened at one of the organization’s two drop-in shelters, at Lake Street Church downtown and at 2121 Dewey Ave. in the 5th Ward.

“They would get added to the Margarita when space becomes available — which could be several weeks,” Tavoularis said, “and they then can stay for an indefinite period of time until they find permanent housing.”

Nieuwsma said the city plans to regulate operation of the shelter through the special use zoning permit and through a licensing ordinance that has yet to be drafted.

The good neighbor agreement, he said, would not be enforceable by the city.

Approval of the special use permit ultimately will be up to the City Council.

The special use request documents and related materials are available on the Connections website.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. I have no idea why the city would grant the special use permit.

    You are taking a hotel–which brought significant tax receipts into the city–and bringing in a shelter that will offer zero in the way of sales/hotel tax and will require more use of city services.

    If you look at their application Connections documents the dramatic rise in police visits to the block since they took over the building (the bulk of which are related to problems at the shelter that they run).

    With the city’s police force at crisis levels of staffing, why in the world would we authorize this special use? Moving it from a use that generated income for the city to one that will increase stress on public safety?

    We really don’t need that.

    1. Because it makes the people who don’t live anywhere near the site feel good inside. They have no idea what it’s been like living next to this place the last few years. I can literally see into the building and have numerous times watched individuals who beg along Davis and Church street taking swigs of bottles of hard alcohol. It’s absolutely insane they’re going through with this.

      I have had to deal with waking up in the middle of the night (while working 80 hours a week on average) close to 3 months worth of days per year. It is absolutely insane over here. Just look at the number of police calls. There’s been over 300 since the shelter opened.

  2. This is going to happen regardless of opposition—-so let’s turn a recently rehabbed nice hotel into a homeless shelter—-yes great idea!—-residents will have better amenities than plenty of hard working tax paying residents…So it’s going to happen then a few things management and residents must comply with…*Residents will abide by a No Panhandling agreement—-*Residents will agree to routine drug drops—-*Management must allow police entry into building if summoned by complaint or suspicion of crime being committed—-as all residents of city must comply with such as domestic disturbance, drunk and disorderly, drug use—-etc etc (and by the way, I live across the alley from the Margarita—-it’s not uncommon for drug dealers to carry out transactions behind the building—-a Connections staff member admitted this to me)…So if Connections is willing to go along with a truly genuine “good neighbor agreement” then prove it by agreeing to said examples as noted here—-and Connections will abide by law and not make up law as they deem fit.

  3. The Good Neighbor Agreement will most likely result in something similar to Albany Care (isn’t this also Nieuwsma’s ward as well?) – residents are not supposed to panhandle on the 4 corners closest to the building. Now they walk about 1/2 block west, hang out in front of residential buildings and homes, & continue to panhandle, sell/buy drugs, etc. Just pull your car over and watch it happen in broad daylight. I just did. Margarita Inn supporters, take note. P.S. Over 80% of homeless population have drug & alcohol problems. Offering a place to sleep does not help or solve this reality. Has anyone proposed a 3 strikes/you’re out policy? So if a resident fails drug test and alcohol breathalyzer 3 times they have to leave and can’t come back for a minimum of _____ months or years. If there aren’t tough consequences, this is just another situation of enabling addicts.

    1. Thank you, Mary E, you are correct about the intersection of homelessness and drug abuse; dysfunctional mental health is also a huge factor in this population.

      Connections apparently refuses to operate the Margarita Inn as a “clean and sober” living facility, thus endangering the safety of their guests, their staff, and the surrounding neighborhood. Absolutely **no** way they should be approved as the permanent operator, as with their “hands off” policy re: substance use (I referenced in another comment here) they are simply enabling failure in their guests. I could gladly support a responsibly managed “clean and sober” homeless living facility, but no, not this.

      Below is a brief summation of the issue. This document is a few years old, so the percentage of homeless abusing substances is no doubt higher, especially with the ghastly Fentanyl crisis that is sweeping our nation:

      ‘Substance Abuse and Homelessness’

      Published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, July 2009

      “Substance abuse is much more common among homeless people than in the general population…by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates, 38% of homeless people are dependent on alcohol and 26% abused other drugs… A 2008 survey by the United States Conference of Mayors asked 25 cities for their top three causes of homelessness. Substance abuse was the single largest cause of homelessness for single adults (reported by 68% of cities) … For many homeless, substance abuse co – occurs with mental illness. Often, people with untreated mental illnesses use as an inappropriate form of self – medication. Those homeless with both substance disorders and mental illness experience additional obstacles to recovery, such as increased risk for violence and victimization, and frequent cycling between the streets, jails, and emergency rooms…”

  4. I’ll refrain from “editorializing”, but the below excerpts from the Connections For the Homeless documents on their website (CAPITALIZATIONS are mine) should be more than a bit “concerning” to us Fourth Ward Residents (I live on Grove, around the corner from the Margarita Inn}. The words speak for themselves – you can draw your own conclusions:

    “Shelter Resident Handbook (rev. 01.15.2022) – Pg. 7: H. ALCOHOL + OTHER SUBSTANCES: ALCOHOL IS ALLOWED IN THE SHELTER but may only be consumed in your room. At no time is open alcohol permitted in any common area, including the hallways, Courtyard, or anywhere outside on the shelter property. Non-prescription substances that are illicit/illegal are not allowed anywhere in the Shelter, including in individual rooms, or on the property…”

    “Margarita Inn Policies and Procedures (updated September 2022) – Pg. 14: OVERDOSES / USE OF NARCAN: Narcan… is used to treat a narcotic overdose in an emergency. IT IS ONLY EFFECTIVE FOR OPIOID OVERDOSES (HEROIN, FENTANYL, AND CERTAIN PRESCRIPTION PAIN MEDICATIONS). Multiple doses of nasal Narcan are kept in… the Health + Operations office… CFTH staff are trained… on how to administer Narcan…”

    CONGREGATE FLOOR POLICY – Pg. 13: The first-floor participant rooms of the Margarita Inn (i.e., 105, 106, 107, and 108) comprise our “Congregate Floor” space AND ARE RESERVED FOR PARTICIPANTS WHO HAVE A RECENT HISTORY OF HEALTH OR SAFETY INCIDENCES SUCH AS OVERDOSE, PROPERTY DAMAGE, OR OTHER HIGHER RISK CONCERNS…”

  5. Let’s look at what Connections stated regarding their numbers:
    -66% of the Margarita residents move onto a stable housing situation
    -15% are removed for violating shelter living rules

    What concerns me is the 15% that are removed for violations. After researching police records, neighbors found numerous people wo had been “removed.” One person who was removed continued to come back to the shelter, at which time the staff called the police to file an “unwanted person ” report. This man was an arsonist who repeatedly came back to the building to set fires. He was evicted for lighting a mattress on fire in the hallway of the Margarita, which the staff could not control. He was evicted from Margarita. As Ms. Boggs said. they do not have formal lease agreements with their residents, so they simply locked him out. The likelihood that he is wandering in Evanston is quite high, as there is the soup kitchen and night shelter kitty corner to the Margarita. He is not receiving mental health care. Per Connections numbers, they would be “evicting ” or more appropriately, releasing roughly 21 persons/year like this arsonist if they have only one turn over of tenants in a 12 month period at a 15% failure rate of a shelter of 70 people. This means that, at a minimum 21 people who are the hardest to help, are expected to be released without help or supervision into the middle of Downtown Evanston. Please also note that Connections uses their funds to pay to bus in new residents. Each person has their own crisis but no treatment is required. Their expectation is to release the 15% who are the absolute hardest and most dangerous to manage, into the downtown and residential areas. Please also note in their Application for Special Use they propose to “RUN criminal records” but are NOT screening those tenants. They are only exclude sex offenders. They do exclude not murderers, assailants, arsonists, etc.
    I have lived in this ward for many years. I know my neighbors. There is a reason that their special use application has only 1 neighbor within 500 feet and everyone else’s letter of support is a paid employee, volunteer, and, without a doubt, lives far away. They do not have the support or trust of the neighborhood. It is time to start the search for another location AND provider.

  6. Wow this is eye opening. Why do they not screen violent criminals? I would not want to live next to a building where I do not know my neighbors and they may be large numbers of people with criminal pasts. I have heard that many people do not want to publicly oppose the shelter because Ms. Boggs bullied the neighbors on TV, but I do see a different reason for not going public with opposition. This is quite scary. Please, City Manager and Council read the comments and imagine if you were in their position. Housing may be a right, but they neighbors work to pay for the housing and the taxes on their housing. They also have the right to safety.

  7. Can we get the Halim Time & Glass Museum multi-millionaire (billionaire?) to buy the Margarita Inn outright? How does he feel about the property next to his personal moment-museum turning into a dangerous dive? Before COVID you’d see wedding receptions and the like at Halim. Wouldn’t want my party bus dropping off guests on this block anymore…

    1. Mr. Halim is strongly opposed and has expressed his sentiments at public meetings about the space. As an older building, Connections will have many obstacles to overcome. The building was never designed for this type of use. It was already failing as a hotel before Covid as evidenced by how far in arrears the owner was in paying hotel taxes to the city.

      1. Having worked out of the Margarita earlier this year, I’ll concur that it is in a fairly dilapidated state. The 100 year – old elevator frequently fails, and the interior is a gloomy maze of steep and narrow staircases and dank hallways leading to tiny rooms. I hated working there, as I’ve arthritis and I’m “slow – moving” in any case; there is miniscule office space for staff. One guy was in a wheelchair, and I felt so badly that it was so difficult for him to get around. To get it up to even very basic ADA standards will be a huge money sink. I’m shocked that it was even able to operate as a hotel previously, as staying there would have been a penance, not a nice experience. No wonder it went broke…

        And for both safety and security reasons, this is a poor layout for a “secured” homeless interim housing facility, especially security – wise, as staff needs to be able to easily “surveil” activity at all times. Ideally, such a facility should be on a single level for “quick access” in case of any crisis/emergency, and simply to monitor activity; rigging up effective video monitoring for the Margarita would be a huge process. There are no “common areas” for guests, especially no dining room or not even a lounge to relax/meet in (there is a large kitchen), so it is depressing for them, as shelter guests need some cheerfulness in their surroundings. They’d be practically better off building from new, or at least acquiring a much more modern facility to renovate…

  8. The fact is that Connections for the Homeless is a Business. Their application for the Safety Net Money Grant states the following: “We are a financially healthy organization that has grown considerably in the past year. We ended fiscal year 2020 with approximately $7M in revenues, up from $4.9M the year prior. In our current fiscal year, we re projecting a year-end of $13.2M.”

    They have the money and large group of volunteers who work for free. They should not be pressuring the city for any special use at the expense of their residents, particularly when they already received money from the city.

    The relationship between Connections for the Homeless and the City is Inappropriate. Connections is a business. Yet, they are not held to ethical standards. They are asked, repeatedly, to consult on issues in which they have a financial interest. This should immediately be stopped. In any other environment, this would be clearly a conflict of interest and an outside party would be secured.
    In 2022, Connections was awarded $150,000 by the Human Services Committee :

    1. There is a “Homeless – Industrial Complex” in this country, and Connections is part of this. Vast sums are provided to homeless agencies (billions to those in California…) in order to add staff, “programs”, and to blatantly influence public policy, as this Margarita Inn contretemps shows. IMO it’s a self – perpetuating grift, as the needy homeless are kept ever childlike, in a state of dependency…

      Connections, with their “charm barrage” to make the Margarita a permanent fixture in our neighborhood, is engaging in that old game of “manufacturing a crisis” in order to not only grow but to sustain themselves with ever more funding. Basically, the more “free stuff” they provide to the homeless, the more homeless will come to Evanston to utilize Connection’s services. I mean, if you were a homeless street person, where would *you* prefer to “land” – the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, or maybe a nice single room in an Evanston luxury hotel, with lax rules, no time limit on stays, alcohol allowed, three meals per, premium cable, and maid and laundry service? So Connections (with the collusion of the city) creates the “need”, homeless flock to Evanston, and thus now Connections posits the Margarita as “indispensable”. And that is how it works, and the Homeless – Industrial Complex pays no heed to our neighborhood “concerns”…

      It’s akin to coming home one day to find a freeloading stranger in your home, announcing that they will have a long stay with you, and proceeding to gobble up all your time, patience, and resources. And when you gently suggest that they “move on”, that greedy stranger loudly accuses you of “INGRATITUDE!”, and they refuse to move on…

      Connections does indeed do some fine work, especially in rental assistance, food pantries, health services, and the like. But this whole Margarita Inn saga is a total and unmitigated disaster – IMO quite frankly, it stinks.

    2. As I learn more about this hyper local issue, I was shocked to learn that there are 300 homeless District 65 school kids. This was claimed in a recent meeting. I can’t remember which, but in an actual Evanston source from 2012, the number was ‘at least 200.’ (

      Where are those kids living? How is the City / we the community supporting THEM and their families? I was truly ignorant of this and feel like a fool. If the City wants to get behind the homeless, why not start with protecting and investing our most vulnerable residents? The minors who have no control over their future, true dependents. Also the people for which there is the most possibility of a fresh start. (Old dogs, new tricks, etc.)

      If we / Evanston management / etc are overlooking Evanston at-risk minors in favor of supporting operations that recruit adult strangers and give them 3 squares (which are far better than what D65 kids get in hot lunches), cable TV, etc, this seems outrageous. But I know very little about this issue except for the shocking number of homeless kids in our schools, so maybe I’m mistaken about the lack of support. Or maybe there are legal obstacles. Can anyone tell me more about this?

      1. We should focus on solving homelessness for the 300 kids in District 65. Instead, we’ve put our resources into the smoke and mirrors mendacity of Connections for the Homeless at the Margarita Inn.

        Connections has a big net to catch the HUD dollars, grants, agency funding and donations that are raining down right now. This is what Gregory Morrow means by the Homeless-Industrial complex. There’s money in homeless administration, and Connections is riding the wave.

        Please oh please, City Council members, Land Use Commission, City Manager, let’s take a step back and take an unfiltered look. Let’s invest in our Evanston families. They’re the ones who live here and deserve our support with shelter, education and hope.

      2. Thank you, Ms. Christensen, your comments are spot – on. Earlier this year I worked for Connections as an SSDI Benefits Specialist, including two – three days per week at the Margarita Inn. I thought it “odd” that children would be co – mingled with adult males {NOTE – I did not observe any “incidents”). As a matter of routine – and for their own personal safety – homeless children and their mothers are housed in female/children only “family” facilities (as the Evanston YWCA does…). Another “safety” factor is that Margarita guests are allowed to drink on the premises (this is per their ‘Shelter Guest Handbook’). Allowing substance abusers around children in such a setting is, IMO, simply adding to the their already considerable trauma, – it is totally unacceptable. It also indicates how clueless/careless Margarita Inn management can be, as allowing open substance abuse in a residential homeless shelter setting simply contravenes all common sense. When I broached this subject with management, I was told that I was “being judgmental” [!!!], and that allowing guest alcohol consumption in the Margarita was part of their “client – centered” and “trauma – informed” social work model…

    3. Connections made $13.2 Million in 2021?!

      That’s probably a lot more than many of the local businesses in downtown Evanston made in the same year! Why are they refusing to hire security?

  9. Why on earth is this still advancing? Why is the Mayor and/ or City Manager allowing the Alderman to do this to his ward and our downtown? It’s outrageous that this has gone on till now. Connections has contributed absolutely nothing but degradation to this town. How many drug deals do we have to see? How many people have to be harassed? If I were an owner at Bennisons or the man who opened the museum, I would be beside myself. As a resident, I get harassed almost daily. I have been spit upon, insulted and threatened. Shouted at by half naked men who loiter at the corner. I have permanently stopped shopping in Evanston. I have heard Ms Bogg tell her story about they “heroically” came forward during Covid. Then she cries crocodile tears and then she shames those who do not donate. I also see that she is almost never at the establishment- I can see it from where I live, nor are most of their spokespeople. Yet, we are obligated to show them goodwill. This is true and absolute folly. The neighbors are against this. Do not be naive enough to buy the story Connections sells. I hope the Council and City Manager see them for what they are – a wolf in sheep’s clothing- and put an outright stop to this nonsense.

  10. A good neighbor agreement is only as good as can be enforced. A list of healthy fines/penalties for violation should be a good incentive to live up to it. Otherwise, everyone who lives, works, or passes by that area should expect nothing.

    1. Before this March, Connections totally ignored/discounted their neighbors’ concerns. I simply don’t understand all of the folderol about their supposed “Good Neighbor Agreement”, as it is *not* legally binding. Now that they have the possibility of purchasing the Margarita, they are on a PR “blitz” to convince the public that they aim to be a “responsible” member of the community. Utter hogwash, because if this purchase goes through, Connections will no doubt revert to their previous MO of ignoring our 4th Ward safety concerns… IOW they are a “bad actor”.

      Connections has, seemingly “under the radar”, become a quasi – governmental entity, and the kicker is that they are accountable to *no one* – we neighbors are ignored, and we cannot even have a referendum about the issue. Naturally, our city government is complicit in all of this.

  11. I have been reading weeks of comments written by greatly concerned residents, backed up by reliable documentation, and cannot believe this is being pushed by our alderman against all our wishes. I am a block from Albany and, after nearly 40 years of home ownership on that block, have been disappointed at the change in my area since addicts have been welcomed to that facility. We have had three years of all the behaviors people near the Margarita Inn are now experiencing and fearing will soon be beyond control. Drug deals in front of our houses, sometimes on my lawn! Vandalism, parties in a vehicle we have tried to have restricted from our street, patients and vagrants being allowed to live in a truck literally parked in front of our homes. Police have been wonderful but are not allowed by law to make this stuff go away. Albany claims they have no power to restrict or control their residents. I thought these addicts with mental illness were PATIENTS being helped. New homeowners with very young children are especially concerned. Will it be any better at Margarita Inn if substances are permitted? If mental illness is not specifically being addressed?

    Why are our objections, fears, experiences, concerns, opinions all being ignored by people we voted into office? I had no idea at the polls that these issues were really my candidate’s intentions. I thought the environment was where we were going to put our best efforts.

    Greg Morrow in particular has all but begged to be heard. He has first-hand experience and knows the issues. I feel we are being steamrolled (as tax paying residents of long standing) into having yet another dangerous and problematic facility forced upon us. What will it take to have our voices respected?

    1. Thank you, Ms. Joseph! Years ago I went homeless for a spell, so I have “lived experience” in that respect. I’ve also since then worked for two major homeless service agencies, first Streetwise, and most recently a short stint at Connections as an SSDI Benefits Specialist (I am now back to my first love, as an employment coach for a large Chicago – based workforce non -profit). So, as both a consumer and provider of homeless services I’ve seen “both sides”; I am also a seven – year Evanston 4th Ward resident, and this Margarita Inn issue directly affects me, as I live around the corner from the Margarita.

      I am very passionate about helping to resolve our homelessness crisis. It is not an “intractable” problem, **if** common sense solutions are applied – but all too often “common sense” is missing from the equation…

      In any case, folks, please make your concerns known. You can do so via the Connections for the Homeless web link that is provided in the above article, here it is again:

      PS: Thank you, Evanston Now, for providing us this forum, much appreciated!

  12. Evanston is a collection of neighborhoods with a large college of temporary residents. As such we need to be more respectful of the wishes of individual neighborhoods. The neighborhood around the Margarita has made their opposition clear. Unfortunately their elected council member seems to have already reached a decision and supports continuation of the shelter in spite of local opposition. Equally unfortunately, Evanston has no ability to recall council members. I suggested the need for recall to Neiusma . His response was immediately negative. Recall is the only way voters can tell representatives they aren’t listening. Hard to see a neighborhood friendly resolution to this issue.

  13. Hello Mr Hague
    Please explain why a recall of Alderman Nieuwsma is not possible. From what I know about this situation as a 30 year resident of the 4th ward, is that for every 1 person who speaks out again Connections, there are at a minimum 10 more who feel the same way but are intimidated from speaking publicly. There has been no shortage of outreach which Alderman Nieuwsma dismissed. His go-to answer is “some people oppose the Margarita; but many people support it” which is one of the reasons people do not speak publicly. They lack the support of the person who is in place to represent them and ensure their safety. If there were a recall and people could vote discretely, I would be very surprised if Mr Nieuwsma would be able to retain his seat. The fact is that the people who oppose Connections are those who have experienced living next to the Margarita first hand, and are also those with the most at stake. These are the very people Alderman Nieuwsma should be taking into consideration. I would be happy to learn more about the possibility of a recall, and I know many others who would be eager to sign onto this movement.

  14. With the significant resources Evanston provides to the unhoused, it is clear more and more people are migrating here to take full advantage of what we offer – effectively the Margarita Inn is a homeless beacon. I most certainly do not have issue with those homed at the Margarita but the magnet effect is real and the attraction is not only to the homeless but those who may prey on the homeless.

    That Connections will not allow police to investigate problems or even identify people is wrong. As a nearby resident this is simply unacceptable.

    We need controls on the facility for the safety of the tenants, the neighborhood, and the city. In that Connections does not seem to be able to establish or enforce such controls, the license/ordinance should require specific conditions not limited to a maximum number of residents (less than 40 to allow for emergency situations like another Covid), safety officer (police/fire/EMS) full and free access as necessary, unannounced inspections to ensure there is no overcrowding (the Margarita was cited earlier for having beds in the basement).

    Without controls such as these, the Margarita is just a homeless warehouse and subject to all kinds of troubles internally and externally.

  15. I live two doors from the Margarita Inn. Our once safe and quiet neighborhood has changed for the worse thanks to some of the guests that Connections has brought. Drug deals, loud fights late at night, public urination and defecation are bad. But safety is a larger concern. One of their residents stalked my wife this year. He left for a month before returning to the Inn. After returning for a few months, I understand he was removed again for more bad behavior. Based upon the last three years, I have low confidence in Connections ability to identify or remove bad actors that make Oak street unsafe.

    If the good neighbor policy is not enforceable, what good is it?

  16. Years ago, many 4th ward residents were mad at former Ald. Don Wilson for supporting Robert Crown. He lost the election due largely to this outrage. Enter Ald. Nieuwsma. Is Albany Care any better – not according to neighbors nearby? What about Margarita Inn, is he advocating for neighbors and business owners? How on earth did the Margarita Inn proposal even get this far with City Council? From what I understand, it’s going to pass, so we are all going to just have to hold our breath until the next election. At that point, let’s ensure massive voter turn-out and get some of these alder people out. They are a part of Evanston’s problem.

  17. As an update, I saw the man who stalked my wife handcuffed by the police today outside the post office. I saw that man yelling at the police (similar to his earlier behavior up and down Oak Street). After a 2nd squad car arrived, he was cuffed.

    It is obvious that the man has mental issues and may be off his medications. Why did Connections ignore his issues and approve him to live here? He has displayed erratic behavior for a long time and Connections failed to act promptly more like glacially. Now that Connections has finally evicted him, he is back like he owns the neighborhood and Connections has no responsibility.

    Why does Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma ignore this type of issue and push to allow Connections to operate as incompetently as they have shown in the past. Local residents are not complaining about the Methadone clinic, the YMCA nor other local supporting organizations. Only Connections appears to be a problem. Connections doesn’t understand how to help people and maintain public safety at the same time.

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