With City Council’s vote scheduled for Monday, several elected officials along with social services advocates rallied in front of the Margarita Inn on Thursday, in support of the plan to make the former hotel a permanent shelter for the homeless.

The Margarita has been a shelter since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020, but now, Connections for the Homeless is buying the facility and is asking council to approve a special use permit and operating agreement to turn temporary usage into something long-term.

Mayor Daniel Biss said, “It’s been a long road and it’s not been an easy road” to reach the anticipated approval vote. He said Evanston needs to be a “Yes in my backyard” city, a reference to the phrase “NIMBY,” or “Not in my backyard.”

Some neighbors have opposed the plan, and there have been lawsuits trying to block it.

However, Biss said “at the end of the day, does having this facility here permanenty exacerbate or improve the problem of homelessness in Evanston?”

“The answer,” he said, “is easy.” It helps. Having a room, a shower, and a meal is better than sleeping on the streets.

Biss was joined by Cook County Commission President Toni Preckwinkle, Ald. Joanthan Nieuwsma, whose 4th Ward includes the Margarita Inn, and Connections for the Homeless director Betty Bogg, among others.

And one of those others who perhaps made the most impactful statement was Christine Friederwald.

Margarita Inn resident Christine Frierwald.

Friederwald, who is currently a resident at the shelter, told the 75-plus people at the event outside the Margarita that living there “has made me a believer again and has helped me overcome my obstacles.”

Friederwald, who broke into tears during her comments at the podium, said she came to Connections and the Margarita after being displaced due to domestic violence, while at the same time she was dealing with cancer.

She’s been at the Margarita for about a year-and-a-half, getting not just a place to sleep, she said, but also services which “gave her a foot in the door” as she plans to transition to permanent housing.

Connections Director Betty Bogg said that since March 2020, 70% of those who stayed at the Margarita have moved out and on to a permanent place to live.

“Evanston,” she stated, “is now leading the way towards solving homelessness.”

Sixty-three people can stay at the Inn at one time, Bogg said, with 43 rooms are used, some housing couples or families. Connections also has a food pantry at a different location, and has covered apartment rent and mortgage payments for those facing eviction.

Most funding for Connections’ $14 million annual budget comes from federal and state governments, along with private contributions. The City of Evanston provides only about $25,000 in direct city funds.

Adding up both the shelter rooms and various other services, Connections says that it helped 2,188 Evanston residents out of 3,544 total people served in the fiscal year that ended last June.

Another agency, the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County, says that more than 1,200 people countywide have moved to permanent housing since the start of the pandemic.

Certainly, however, homelessness remains an incredibly challenging problem.

Commission President Preckwinkle said that on any given night more than 1,000 people are experiencing homelessness in suburban Cook County.

The goal, she said, is that “everybody in Cook County has a place to call home.”

But calling the Margarita Inn home, even temporarily, is not popular with everyone.

Some neighbors have complained about panhandling, crime, drug and alcohol usage, and other alleged forms of misbehavior by residents of the Inn.

And the owner of 1570 Oak Avenue, which is next door to the Margarita, has filed a lawsuit, trying to get a court order to block use of the Inn as a permanent shelter.

In his lawsuit, Larry Starkman says that the Inn has become a “public and private nuisance,” causing his building to lose tenants, income and value.

The suit alleges the shelter has damaged the surrounding neighborhood, “causing an increase in criminal activity, police and emergency services involvement and overwhelming panhandling and loitering, changing the area into an unsafe and unwelcoming environment.”

A hearing on the suit is scheduled for late August.

But on Monday, City Council is still expected to okay the permanent shelter arrangement.

Ald. Nieuwsma, who faced a fair amount of political pushback over his support for the Margarita plan, said he was speaking with a neighbor who said, “We don’t want this,” and told Nieuwsma that approving the shelter “will be your legacy.”

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th Ward).

But Nieuwsma told the assembled crowd that “I’d like that legacy. I can live with that, and it’s a legacy for our entire community. It should not be so hard to do such good work.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. Well Mayor Biss, you most certainly can say yes because it’s not in your backyard

    1. Please please please!!! We need to get rid of this mayor. His hypocrisy and care for only his political career advancement – at the expense of Evanston tax-paying citizens – is galling.

  2. Bravo Connections! And bravo to the public servants who are supporting this initiative. We are a better community for this work.

  3. Once they get their license, we will never be able to get rid of them, the problems their clients cause, or get them to do anything to mitigate the problems. This is the fastest route to turning downtown Evanston into a sewer.

  4. As someone who lives 3 blocks from the M.I., I hope that we can all work together to be good neighbors.

      1. You may be interested to know that the mayor lives in a ward with one affordable housing unit and zero homeless (Ward 6). We are pretty full here in the fourth and fifth wards. So it’s pretty easy for him to be self-righteous. I for one do not appreciate the oblique slur.

    1. I support a homeless shelter, but not the way Connections is doing it. Because it is not sober housing. I’m a hardcore NIMBY about drug and alcohol abuse. I don’t want Fentanyl in my yard or anyone else’s yard. They allow residents to keep abusing drugs and alcohol. Alcohol is easy to get legally. Fentanyl (and there have been overdoses there already) is easy to get, relatively cheap per pill, and destructively addictive. Some shelters won’t allow people who have used in the last 24 hours.

      If someone showed up at the Margarita bleeding from a wound, they’d call an ambulance. If they showed up delirious with a high fever, they’d at least give them medication to bring it down. If they showed up with cancer, they’d find a way to get treatment.

      Alcoholism / addiction is a disease and also requires treatment. It’s immoral that they do not. They’re endangering the sober residents of the Margarita as well because the close proximity to drugs and alcohol can encourage them to start using. It’s only human… we can ALL succumb to any behavior because it becomes ‘normal’ when we see other people around us doing it.

      1. It’s a little more that goes on inside there. I know alot of the details I used to volunteer and it’s just about everyone in the margarita has an addiction and the mental health is horrid.

      2. We have a very small assisted living house on the next block. While there are no behavioral issues, there have been ongoing issues with things like not supervising the residents in throwing out garbage so there have been feces all over the alley with those blue pads, needles, open garbage etc for years. And that is only a handful of residents and they do not have addiction problems. It is a rodent draw and it really does affect quality of life for those in the immediate area.

  5. Let’s not forget that connections paid Ald Reid’s rent. He won’t recuse himself from the vote on Monday which is a travesty. They will likely have the votes anyway but it’s just pathetic.

  6. Larry, I live close to your apartments, and you have no reason to bitch about the margarita. The panhandling and noise is coming from YOUR building. Pay attention. Step in the alley around 10 or 11, see where the noise is coming from. It’s not the margarita.

  7. I wonder, when the first murder committed by a Margirita Inn residence occurs, will Nieuwsma still be proud to call this his legacy? I mean, he already obviously doesn’t care about overdose deaths, but surely, murder has to beyond the pale, no? Nah, probably not.

    1. He’s ignored the past 3 years of well-reasoned arguments by the neighborhood, who actually have to live with it. He’ll find a way to excuse it away in his own mind. I have no respect for anyone who willfully allows drug deals in his ward. The alder person has all the information from police reports, hospital incidents, etc that there are significant drugs in the building… but he hasn’t gotten too curious.

      I know most people don’t want to believe that there is a drug and alcohol problem here, but even the residents of the Margarita have said it.

  8. 100% Opposed as previously expressed in several posts on
    Evanston Now!

    I’m more galvanized than ever in complete and total opposition to:

    Mayor Biss, Alder Reid, Alder Nieuwsma, and virtually all on this council

    This makes absolutely zero sense.

    Clearly, there is no argument that will change their minds.

    Done with Evanston.

    1. Further, why would anyone want to be seen with the Cook County leader?

      Are county funds involved?

  9. I am on board with the “YIMBY” message. Evanston could build up and be a great small city with more walkability if it would allow more density.

    Let’s all remember the mayor’s words, and hold him to tat sentiment, the next time someone wants to construct an apartment building on under-utilized land, or open a restaurant in a currently vacant building and neighborhood opposition comes out against it.

    In fact there is an opportunity right now to repeat that message regarding the proposed day-care at Gross Point and Central St. See https://evanstonnow.com/luc-gives-thumbs-down-to-day-care/

    Mr. Mayor: the current owner of that property want to sell it to someone who can use it. The day care is prepared to make use of it and buy it. Since the building is currently a church, anyone who would take it over would likely have some kind of operation that generates traffic. If the city is going to oppose any development which generates traffic then the inevitable outcome is an abandoned building.

    Mr. Mayor, please weigh in on this issue.

  10. Yes Reid should most definitely recuse himself, but he won’t, nor will Mayor Biss ask him to do so. This is not a democracy, but a benign monarchy based on “do-gooders” who are personally benefitting from each transaction they support. Reid gets his rent paid, Biss gets name recognition so he can run for Senator next. These are just steps taken to further benefit themselves, they are not looking out for, much less representing their constituents.
    And yes, it’s not in Biss’s backyard, nor Reid’s for that matter.
    At the same time, they refuse to allow a daycare center in NW Evanston (near Biss’s vackyard) due to “too much traffic congestion” twice/day. So, it’s ok for downtown Evanston to become unsafe & unwelcoming due to drugs & panhandling, but traffic congestion due to picking up & dropping off children so their parents can go to work to earn a living in unacceptable? Priorities are truly out of whack here with our leaders.

  11. I regret voting for Biss. I wish I hadn’t donated to his campaign. Being smart (professor) and common sense are different.

    I am disappointed my home will move from 3rd ward to 4th due to the remap. My representative changes.

    I moved downtown for easy, safe walking to the library, stores and post office. That is no longer safe due to panhandlers, violence and drugs. Drugs and alcohol should be prohibited at the Inn. Listen to our police, please.

    Agree about Biss encouraging us to suffer while he and his neighbors can’t manage traffic from a daycare. That happens around every elementary school twice a day!

    1. I’m gonna be honest the panhandlers are not exactly homeless nor are they from the margarita. The panhandlers are actually individual that are house some in Evanston some outside they come to Evanston because it’s Friendly they don’t leave because it’s easy for them to find somewhere to sleep at night and they can continue on their drug train. If you go to jewel the panhandlers are housed individuals coming from the nursing homes. In reality none of the panhandlers are actually homeless they just tell you that so they can purchase drugs

  12. NIMBY? LOL. There are plenty of excellent community services offered in this backyard, as Mayor Biss and the city council are well aware. Just .1 miles away from the Margarita Inn is the McGaw YMCA which offers supportive housing for 156 men. .4 miles away is Hilda’s Place, a transitional shelter that houses 20 participants and provides daily services to many more. In another direction, also .4 miles away is Mary Lou’s Place at the YWCA which offers emergency shelter for women and children. Greenwood Care, an intermediate care facility with 145 beds for the chronically mentally ill is .5 miles away. No one is complaining about these well-run facilities which have been in place for many years. The NIMBY lectures are unfair and a diversion from the real issue which is the fact that the mayor and city council have fast-tracked the approval of a poorly run shelter, without good governance in place. In the meantime, several proposals for property-tax-generating downtown housing developments have languished for years, Fountain Square still doesn’t have any working fountains, and the city’s been “trying” for over a decade to deal with the dangerous Chase bank drive-through (and the adjoining undeveloped patch of fenced off grass) on Davis Street. But the one project that must be pushed through ASAP is the project that forgives $477K of property tax debt of the current Margarita Inn owner and results in taking another piece of property off the tax rolls?

    1. Well done! I am a taxpayer, not in the neighborhood and totally agree, Evanston has enough, needs a viable business to enhance the downtown area, and stabilize safety for the number of folks over 65 moving there, along with young working people without children, finding Evanston livability offerings rise, not deteriorate further. Make the building owner pay his back taxes, he needs to sell it. And, selling it to someone who will provide jobs and training for working tax payers, making this area a nice place to visit. Why is this such a difficult concept, Mayor Biss? We need better leadership, and take away the reasons for people to end up homeless. High costs of living, high taxes, easy access to drugs and booze. Reparations based on drug sales? It is a disease. Stop the madness.
      And, Fountain Square? Really? And yes, to a well respected day-care!

  13. The word “homeless” has been stolen by Connections. We all want to help the homeless. If someone or a family is in crisis, Evanston will help. This is what defines our city. We are a caring city. We will help bridge the gap when someone is in crisis.

    But our city does not want the addicts, drunks, and the lazy who choose to be homeless and purposefully take advantage of our charity. These vagabonds bring crime and blight to Evanston. This cannot be allowed.

    If members of the City Council , our mayor, Betty Bogg, Toni Preckwinkle and Jennifer Hill continue to deny the difference between “people in need” and “people who take” then we will continue to be on very opposite sides.

    The council may approve on Monday but the issue of how our council so willfully ignored the tax paying residents and citizens on and near Oak Avenue will not be forgotten. Jonathan Nieuwsma will not be re-elected. Daniel Biss will not be re-elected.

    My name is Agnes D’Marco and I live on Oak Street near the Margarita.

  14. Let’s start with wards 6 and 7 opening their doors to affordable housing and connection for the homeless

  15. “YIMBY” is just as brainless a stance to take as NIMBY. Evanston should be “Yes, If” community. Open to ideas but aware that the devil is in the details and willing to openly explore and hash them out without resorting to pat sloganeering (or social media bullying). Sadly that’s seldom the case anymore. The (likely) approval of the Margarita as it’s currently being run is Exhibit A. And the summary from “Tired Evanston Parent” above demonstrates that we are open to ideas, specifically with regardless to services for the unhoused — just not every half-baked idea that comes along.

  16. This has been a done deal from the onset. Pretty interesting to see the Cook County president. This can only be changed at the ballot box. Good luck with that.

  17. Evanston’s leadership are “do-gooders” that don’t care about their constituents. New development?- not good, new daycare? not good.. homeless shelters, vacant lots and more crime GOOD!
    Vote these people out!

  18. Open your hearts to the down-trodden who have come here in this era of known Evanston generosity in so many social segments. Organizations who bring in
    needy from outside of EV are reminding us of how fortunate we are for the decades
    of easy roads we were fortunate to travel in our own lives. Fourth Warder

  19. I would love to see YIMBY Biss standing on the 1/2 acre vacant lot next to his Central Street home endorsing a zoning variation to allow the owner/developer to build a rental apartment building with 4 additional modest apartments. How times have changed.

  20. I think it’s great that my city wants to help provide shelter to homeless people. I think it would be great if we also had a solid harm reduction program, clean needle program and clear cut guidelines on where to send addicts for detox. My problem has never been about the MI theoretically, it’s about the reality of what has happened over there. So many families need housing, as well as so many women and while yes, Bogg did find one woman to stand in front of the podium and tell her story to the press (which was definitely inspirational), most women will not feel safe at the MI, nor will families with children. Why? Because the majority of residents are men who are abusing drugs and/or alcohol. Allowing that type of a tenant to stay at the MI ruins it for people who really need the help. Do I have a solution for the where to send the addicts? Well I wish they could all be sent to a free state run detox facility for 120 days. But that’s obviously never going to happen. But giving addicts housing BEFORE testing their addiction is a band aid, not a solution.

  21. Biss rocks Carol, and Mary, you’re living in a fantasy world. There is always going to be addicts wherever you live. If you find that perfect, non-addictive world, let me know

  22. Mayor Biss, then take it to YOUR backyard.
    It’s frustrating when organizations like this state they use federal money( hello? It is still Evanstonians’ money, last I checked I paid federal taxes). And to dismiss concerns from the surrounding community? Where is the democracy? It’s hypocrisy more like it.
    The people speak but nothing is considered.
    Helping homeless is definitely a good and noble intention. But you know what they say “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

  23. It’s sad that this has become such a cut and dry thing.
    You like this, you’re a good person.
    You oppose, you’re the devil NIMBY heartless.
    If it were so easy. What I notice, as the devil, is a strange railroading by the City Council, which has been proved to be corrupt between Starkman’s lawsuit and the new light of Ethics brought up last week.
    I’ve talked to neighbors opposed, I am one too. The thing is, 90% of the opposition does NOT oppose a shelter being in that building. The opposition is of Connections For The Homeless running it. They may have a 50% success rate (they say 70% now, but where’s that data?) and that is great, however, the way they have treated us surrounding neighbors has been an utter slap in the face. They lie to us. They got Biss and Nieusimwa to say they agreed that how this was handled isn’t the best, but then in public absolutely say it’s great and the best thing ever.
    No one likes being lied to. You hear enough lies, and the truths become unbelievable. And that is unfair.
    We see in these comments, former staff and clients telling us what is going on inside that building, it’s easy to verify and dox those people to see they are clients or former staff. Why would they lie?
    People are dying in there for no reason, there is more crime as a side effect of the current unlicensed shelter (how did that just be accepted?).
    We are afraid. I am afraid. I’ve overcome many of the addictions and issues the clients have faced. I feel stuck and afraid. I have a heart.
    It’s not a simple issue.

  24. 1. Even though his vote won’t change anything. Devon Reid, if he had a shred of integrity, would abstain from voting. And the fact that he even is allowed to vote, shows the sad state of our City Council.
    2. Count me among those who believe a homeless shelter should be for people who aren’t suffering from substance abuse or mental health issues. Those people should be treated an housed in facilities fully dedicated to those issues.

  25. Mayor Biss, please count me as a YIYBY – Yes in YOUR Back Yard. If you want me and the other neighbors to quietly accept and deal with the problems that are already happening, then show us how it’s done. There must be a suitable property in your neighborhood that could accomodate a free-for-all shelter like Connections For The Homeless runs…

  26. Hopefully, in his speech, tomorrow hell be telling us that instead of that daycare on Central and gross point, the margarita inn will be going in his backyard and that building going on church and Darrow gets put in his ward as well! You can’t be a yes in my backyard without leading by example and he can’t because he will never do what he is doing to the 4th and 5th ward to his ward the 6th ward!

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