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

The attorney for a neighboring property owner has sent a letter to city officials insisting that the Land Use Commission reopen its hearing on the special use permit for a homeless shelter at the Margarita Inn.

Alan Didesch is an attorney for Cameel Halim, who owns the Halim Time & Glass Museum at 1560 Oak Ave., just south of the Margarita Inn, and the former King Home across the street at 1555 Oak Ave.

He says that under the city code the commission was required to grant Halim’s written request for a continuance at the Nov. 30 hearing.

Didesch says the commission, based on incorrect advice from the city’s law department, instead concluded that granting a continuance was optional and chose not to approve it.

Evanston Corporation Counsel Nick Cummings, in an emailed response this morning to a question from Evanston Now, disputed Didesch’s characterization of the situation but said it would be up to the city manager and the City Council to decide how to respond to the request to reopen the LUC hearing.

The City Council is currently scheduled on Feb. 13 to review the special use request from Connections for the Homeless to continue to operate the shelter at the Margarita Inn.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. The optics will be very bad for the City Manager and Mayor if this continuance is not granted. From the first meeting in the church next to the Margarita, to the Good Neighbor Agreement that no neighbor would agree to sign, there has been the understanding that this was already a done deal between Betty Bogg and Mayor Biss. Nonetheless, everyone deserves their day in court. Everyone has the right to present their case.

  2. The simple fact that one Council Member took money from Connections, and another is rumored to have asked for it, would warrant taking the time to make sure the City has the right partner for this endeavor. At best, they are sloppy with handing out money, at worst they are taking bribes.

  3. Thank you for publishing this – it is good news for our 4th Ward community. This whole Margarita approval contretemps has been a “rush job”, arrogantly pushed through by Connections for the Homeless for their sole benefit. Connections apparently assumes that we and our city officials are “dumb”, and that we will trust their feel – good bromides that create the illusion of their “problem solving” of the homeless issue in Evanston. IMO Connections has been neither transparent nor honest. So far, they have shown total disregard for any of our concerns…

    These are some hard questions that need to be addressed before moving forward with the approval process:

    • If the Margarita Inn is “for Evanston”, then why are so many Margarita guests from other localities? Neighboring communities are sending their homeless here, placing an undue burden on already – stressed Evanston city services
    • Why did the Good Neighbor Agreement process collapse? Why were the Margarita’s neighbors, including businesses, not keen on being involved in this process? This is a “huge fail” – without this, the process should absolutely *not* advance
    • There is a crying need for transitional homeless housing facilities for Evanston families and their children. Why then are there so many single adult males being housed at the Margarita? Should not unhoused Evanston women and children get priority?
    • Why is the Margarita being operated as a “low – barrier” shelter? Low – barrier homeless shelters are a very poor model for addressing the needs of chronically unhoused individuals; chaos, dysfunction, and failure are the hallmarks of a low – barrier shelter. We deserve *far* better, as CFTH has generous funding and skilled front – line staff


    Gregory Morrow – 4th Ward Evanston resident and former Connections for the Homeless employee

  4. Yeah, I watched that dog and pony show. Connections & Interfaith got to speak first: 90 continuous minutes to run their overtly religious programming tape. After that exhausting, numbing display of “Hallelujah, praise the LORD for our mission,” the citizens got a whopping 3 minutes each.

    Being non-religious, I was quite disgusted and felt ‘othered’ by this. Christians apparently run this town, if that display was allowed to go on during a city government meeting. Another reason I feel like I’m being actively pushed out from what little community there is here.

    1. Connections frivolously treated this serious occasion more like a pep rally than a business meeting. How many of their 200 “supporters” that showed up were from our 4th Ward area immediately impacted by the Margarita Inn?

      From their latest Facebook posting:

      “Break out those purple shirts and show up this February 13th to support us at our Planning & Development and City Council meetings!

      RSVP here and share in your circles:…/1tqg47qihb43FfPj0…/viewform…

      We hope to see you there!”

  5. Not exactly sure how Corporation Counsel reads city code but it clearly states one continuance must be granted with the city having say in timing of meeting.

  6. The neighbors have been emailing, calling, writing to the City for years. Literally. They have been actively ignored. Women have been stalked, people assaulted, shops burglarized. These are facts, not criticisms made by “NIMBYS”. Connections has been a terrible terrible neighbor. If Mr Halim is unsuccessful in getting the council and Mayor to listen and to the neighbors- just to have a chance to present findings- the Mayor is making a clear statement on how he is running this City, and that he is setting up this ward for years of conflict.

    1. Actually, from what I have heard and seen, Ald. Neiusma is pushing the issue. I have talked extensively with Neiusma and while he says some of the right things he, at least to me, continues to take Connections’ side in presentations and scheduling.

  7. If Evanston is about equity under the law, they should immediately grant a proper hearing for neighbors where they don’t have to subject themselves to being accosted by people who do not have standing in the issue. They bully the council, threaten lawsuits, pack the room with paid volunteers, and mock those who have a different view as “racist.” Neighbors deserve a fair and objective hearing.

    1. Yes, indeed, this brings to mind the old – fashioned term “buffaloed”, which is how Connections has been handling the situation with the Margarita Inn for ***three*** years now:

      “verb (used with object), buf·fa·loed, buf·fa·lo·ing. Informal.

      to impress or intimidate by a display of power, importance, etc.:

      Example: ‘The older boys buffaloed him’…”

  8. The unfortunate fact is that the neighbors have asked for this continuance because, under their current Alderman, they haven’t benefited from an objective listener. No one has ever been able to bring Connections to the negotiating table. It’s their way or the highway. Halim and neighbors would probably have a better chance in the local court system than in the city court.

  9. Walking to the post office via Oak this morning, my wife was sexually harassed twice by people we know stay at Margarita Inn (this, despite her being bundled up and it being one of the coldest days of the year!)

    When is enough going to be enough?

  10. There is a particular group of people who are waiting for the reply of the Council – the business community, specifically those on Davis. Halim and his daughter have been speaking out on their behalf, because the majority of them do not want the negative attention their businesses have incurred as a result of the Margarita and the crime and problems they have brought with them. The local Evanston business community is not a very large one, and some of them have known each other for generations. They respect each other, and have come to depend on one another over the years. Many of them purposely buy each other’s goods intentionally to support their businesses. For example -the baked goods at the Banquet Hall at the Time and Glass Museum come from Bennisons.
    The result of the Council, Mayor and City Managers’ decision to send this back to Land Use embodies their attitude towards all Evanston businesses – large and small. Do they want to give them the time of day or not – to be determined.

  11. Connections is housing people from Skokie and Des Plaines and Grayslake. This should not be proceeding. A shelter for Evanstonians is different than a shelter that busses people in from other communities! Send this request back to the LUC so we can truly analyze it and know what we are voting on!

  12. An Alderman swayed by personal beliefs of helping homeless people is sweet, but he can go volunteer in our city’s soup kitchens and other important assistance programs in Evanston. His attitude toward his tax paying constituents is really complete dereliction of duty.

    1. Amen! Our Council is more concerned with turning Evanston into a haven for the homeless of Illinois than the needs of the tax payers who foot the bill and the business community.

  13. My letter is a little bit different than the other commentators. Before the pandemic, I wrote an email to the Time and Glass Museum about visiting. I have an autistic son who is in a wheelchair. He does not do well in crowds. I was worried about my son having a hard time and causing damage, so I was looking for quiet days to come in. Mr. Halim personally arranged to have the museum closed to the public, on the day that suited us, so that we could tour with our son. He arranged a private tour guide and made sure we had parking and access to the wheelchair spots. This museum has earned a spot within the parent community, as well as within the community of care givers. As a parent who struggles to find activities for my child – not to mention the difficulty of finding wheelchair accessible places that are easy to navigate- I cannot find the words to express the outreach this museum has done with parents and school districts who have come to tour. The few hours we spent at the Museum of Time and Glass went beyond any experience I have as before. I have never felt so cared for and welcomed. Therefore, I cannot fathom the City treating the Museum founder this way. I hope, for his sake, that he is allowed to properly represent himself in front of the City, with all rights and privileges that come in our legal system. That is the most basic thing that would be afforded someone who has contributed this much to the City.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Ms. Fisher. The Halim family have made Evanston a better place to live, and they have kind and generous hearts. That the city and Connections for the Homeless is treating them as “the enemy” is simply unfathomable to me. The Halim family are the kind of citizens that any community would be very, very proud to have, but instead our elected Evanston officials and Connections for the Homeless evince a very “flip” attitude towards their many valuable contributions…

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident and former CFTH employee

    2. My wife and I took my adult son there 3 years ago. We had a great time.

      I’m smiling after reading your post, as I think Mr. Halim is a great asset to the city of Evanston. Aldermen and Mayor’s come and go. It’s nice to read about a successful and caring business man.

  14. I am very glad to read the comment by Ms. Fisher. About 30 years ago, my wife and I ran a small shop in one of Mr Halim’s buildings in Chicago. It was a small shop and when the economy turned and rates were up in the double digits, we met with Mr Halim and told him that we wouldn’t be able keep paying rent. We were terrified that he would take us to court. We didn’t have much money left and had young children at the time. Contrary to what we thought, he was sympathetic. he told us not to give up, to pay what we could, to keep trying, and that everyone in business was having a hard time. He helped us remodel the inside of the shop and was involved in trying to help us succeed. Although we did not pay him full rent for about a year and a half, we did pay what we could. Sometimes it was really not much. That said, we did ultimately pay what we agreed to, did not close the business and ended up putting our children through school with that business. I never properly thanked him. I hope the city of Evanston shows him the decency to a fair trial.

  15. I don’t live in the ward but what goes on in any ward of Evanston affects all Evanstonians. When will elected officials in Evanston start asking their constituents what they want to see in their community. I don’t know anyone who wants Evanston to be a smaller version of Chicago. We like a community, where shelters go to long time Residents who need help. Not busing in strangers with no community ties. Certainly we don’t need the stress and burden of what Connections is selling. Biss would be wise to reconsider. He most likely will be a one term mayor.

    1. Carol, I sure hope you’re right about Biss being a 1-term Mayor. I don’t know if the city can even survive one term. I‘be noticed Bennisons is opening a cafe in Wilmette under a different name. Is this a sign of things to come?

  16. In the middle of the pandemic, my restaurant, which happens to be in one of Mr Halim’s buildings – was not getting even half of the business we would get during a “normal” period, Halim’s daughter called our shop every week to check on us. She ordered lunch for their other tenants, over-ordered actually, and over-tipped us on purpose. We have been able to stay in business in Evanston because of people like this. We did benefit from a small ppp loan, but their moral support really just got us through a terrible time. I feel sorry they’ve been treated like this by the city. They should not have to ask 3 times to have their attorney represent them. I am also angry that the City has not made a real effort to make Connections a better neighbor. They are non contributors. Halim and another property owner offered to work with Connections in a location away from downtown, and Betty Bogg’s reply was actually fairly rude, as I remember, about it being a waste of their time and resources. What about all of Evanston? What is the best use of this property? Is their use good for the town’s time and resources ?

  17. A Low Barrier Housing-First Shelter half a block from Evanston’s largest Downtown area is just plain wrong. Why give businesses are harder time than they are already having post pandemic?

  18. After I educated myself about what a low barrier shelter is, I must agree with the previous comments. Housing persons with serious drug addictions and criminal records is important- but this is the wrong location. We could still help people in Evanston in this very building, but the low barrier model is problematic at this location.

  19. I am a resident of the 4th and previously a contributor to Connections. At the beginning of this whole process Connections in their website touted their work in housing the homeless as temporary similar to the housing in Evanston hotels. That seemed like a reasonable approach during the Covid times. At some point all this changed and Connections now looks at the whole process as a forever process and a way to have Evanston fund their activities. Evanston’s homeless problem is, like just about all cities, real but I really doubt Connections is the one to solve it. Perhaps it is time to push for a recall statute for Council members and a mayor who seem comfortable ignoring voices in the neighborhoods.

      1. Pistol Pete – how do we initiate a recall? At least send them a message that their jobs aren’t safe if they aren’t doing what the public asks.

  20. Why is there still a confidentiality agreement between the seller and connections ? This is not normal protocol. They should disclose the agreed upon purchase price. With federal and local tax dollars, as well as donor money, this should be disclosed. The City should not continue to legitimize the secrecy of this deal, as well as the shady way Connections works- everything is hidden, no cooperation with the police, bo cooperation with the neighbors.
    The city should thoroughly vet every aspect of this deal instead of participating in the shroud of secrecy.

  21. It is a clear violation of Evanston city code that Mr. Halim’s request for a continuance was denied. It has been abundantly clear that due process has not been followed by the LUC. This is a frightful precedent that all of us in Evanston should be concerned about.

  22. Hopefully the City Council and City Manager will recognize the legal implications of not granting the written request for continuance made at the November hearing. I’m confident Halim’s legal team will be successful.

    It seems our City residents and elected officials are more interested in advertising and discussing Northwestern’s plans for a new entertainment complex than they are in fully analyzing plans to operate a 70 bed, regional, low barrier homeless shelter in Evanston.

    Both projects are following the required City processes for variance approval, LUC hearings, etc. however what differs is the approach to community engagement and awareness.

    The council member representing 7th Ward (Revelle?) has hosted many community meetings, talked to many residents, and has called for independent studies on the Northwestern project. She listens, remains objective, and is working to find common ground.

    Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward council member, on the other hand, has hosted a few community meetings which were nothing more than a telethon for Connections. When he covers the subject at his ward meetings, he presents the steps taking place in the approval process, as though it is a done deal. When he receives input and questions from constituents he typically ignores or argues versus listening and discussing. He is in way over his head and has lost objectivity.

    I see a dereliction of duty in his methods and view his blind faith bias in favor of Connections (not homeless shelters) as unethical.

    All city residents should pay attention to this city changing plan for a 70 bed regional shelter (anywhere in the city) just as they are paying attention to the city changing Northwestern plan.

  23. Connections should be forthright about who they serve and their target resident. They specialize in housing drug addicts and people who have criminal records. They receive large amounts of Federal money to bus them into Evanston and then work on “rapid rehousing” but they have a 50 percent failure rate. Because they seek to hide this information, they refuse cooperation with police, refuse 3rd party audits, won’t let documentation leave the building, and have created a severely antagonistic relationship with the community, encouraging others in Evanston to shame opponents as “racists” so as to invalidate criticism and shield themselves from a thorough evaluation. They are a terrible partner for the City of Evanston. Send this back to the LUC so we can get answers to our questions!

  24. I live half a block from the Margarita Inn and I can tell you that my wife and I have been awoken many times by the residents there. I have tried to keep an open mind and support housing for the homeless in our community, but I agree with many people who wrote who say that Connections is not truly partnering with the community. I no longer support Connections in this endeavor. People are speaking their truth about their concerns and experiences. Why aren’t Biss and Nieuwsma listening?

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