Evanston’s Human Service Committee is scheduled Monday night to approve a licensing scheme for the Margarita Inn homeless shelter that some neighbors say is not strict enough.

Connections for the Homeless, the non-profit now seeking to operate the Margarita as a shelter on a permanent basis, initially leased the hotel to provide emergency housing for the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Evanston-based organization has grown rapidly during the pandemic, with its budget doubling to nearly $14 million in the fiscal year ending in June 2021 from just under $7 million the previous year.

Connections now lists a staff of 76 employees and says it serves 472 chronically homeless individuals and provides eviction prevention services and other programming to thousands more in 52 communities from Evanston to Grayslake.

But neighbors say the proposed ordinance doesn’t provide enough protection for the community.

The new ordinance would adapt existing licensing regulations designed for overnight emergency congregate shelters that require participants to leave during the day to include what the ordinance calls “fixed-site non-congregate shelters” — hotel or rooming-house like facilities that don’t require occupants to sign a lease.

The amendments would require license applicants to:

  • Provide a floor plan with room size measurements,
  • Have guidelines for providing health care and procedures to address misconduct.
  • Permit annual inspections by various city departments.
  • Pay a $500 annual fee for license issuance or renewal.
  • Have clearly-stated policies “indicating when a participant can be involuntarily discharged.”

It adds a provision specifying that the city can deny a license for:

  • Poor performance on routine city inspections.
  • Persistent sanitation and verifiable misconduct complaints associated with the shelter.
  • Violation of any other applicable codes that negatively affect the health and welfare of Evanston residents.

The amendments eliminate provisions that:

  • Restrict shelters to housing no more than 20 residents.
  • Limit their operation to no more than 12 hours per day.
  • Require shelter operators to keep a list of names of shelter residents available for inspection by city staff. (By contrast the city requires hotel and rooming house operators to maintain such a list and make it available to police and other city staff.)

The amendments also switch from banning possession of alcohol in shelters to permitting it “so long as it is kept out of reach of minors and the shelter has a policy to de-escalate incidents involving belligerence.”

Lifting the ban on alcohol, the shelter capacity restrictions and the requirement to make a list of shelter residents available to police are among the provisions of the ordinance that neighbors have voiced objections to.

Police reports obtained by residents through Freedom of Information Act requests indicate that on some occasions staff at the shelter have denied entry to officers investigating reports of criminal activity.

The amendments also give the shelter operator a minimum of three weeks to cure any violations cited by the city, including ones that lead the city to seek revocation of the shelter’s license unless the violations “cause imminent detriment to the health or public safety.”

But they maintain a provision of the existing ordinance that allows the city to take summary action to revoke the shelter’s license and to close the shelter immediately if it poses “an immediate and serious menace to public health and safety.”

Neighbors have also voiced concerns about panhandling and anti-social activity in the Davis Street business district near the shelter, which the neighbors associate with shelter residents.

Whatever the Human Services Committee decides to do about the ordinance, final action on the measure will be up to the full City Council.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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19 Comments

  1. Once they pass this ordinance and give Maragarita the license, it will prove impossible to enforce and impossible to get them out. That means that we can all look forward to downtown Evanston turning into an empty, feces-strewn husk as people elect to shop, live, and locate their businesses elsewhere so that they don’t have to deal with the issues generated by the Margarita Inn and its residents.

    1. … and anyone who objects publicly will be pilloried for showing their -isms of some sort or another.

  2. To access HUD and other public funding, Connections for the Homeless *must* adhere to the flawed Federally – mandated “Housing First” policy. As a result, Connections is required to turn an apparent “blind eye” to addiction issues, making The Margarita Inn a “low barrier” shelter. We Fourth Ward neighbors and the greater Evanston community deserve better than to have such a facility in our midst. In contrast, a “high barrier” shelter would ban substance abuse on the premises, carefully screen shelter applicants for criminal behavior, and set more robust behavioral standards for shelter guests. Not to mention, a responsible organization would operate on a “good faith” and transparent basis with their neighbors and the wider community – which I have *not* seen Connections doing. An article on “Housing First” (long, below are some excerpts):

    https://www.city-journal.org/subsidizing-addiction

    Subsidizing Addiction – The Government Pays Homeless Addicts To Stay On Drugs And Alcohol.

    By Judge Glock – Summer 2022

    “Housing First is now official federal policy, and every local homelessness group receiving federal funds has to adopt it. HUD tells these groups that mandates for addiction services “should be rare and minimal if used at all.”…

    Today, drug abuse is not a barrier for homeless people seeking housing and welfare. In fact, many policies make drug abuse a prerequisite for services. Federal, state, and local programs give addicts more funds and assistance than nonaddicts. And other favors go to homeless individuals who can prove that they’re engaging in criminal activity… The government ignores how, by rewarding destructive behavior, it makes it harder for people to get their lives together—and thus, how it is encouraging the very problems that it claims to be solving…

    One way that addicts have secured benefits is through new homelessness programs. The HEARTH Act, signed by President Obama in 2009, reorganized homelessness spending to emphasize giving permanent homes to the chronically homeless—those on the streets for more than a year and with a disability. This was known as the Housing First philosophy. Without any seeming debate, Congress adopted the bureaucracy’s own definition of disability, which included “substance use disorder.”…

    The government’s effort to give housing priority to addicts and criminals is even more damaging because the current Housing First model discourages treatment for addiction or other problems. The idea behind Housing First, also known as permanent supportive housing, was that homeless people needed “low barriers” to get off the street and into housing; any mandates for treatment, on this view, would discourage homeless applicants…”

    1. This is interesting. Perhaps someone should ask Congresswoman Schakowsky to improve this law for the communities’ sake.

  3. This definitely sounds backwards from what I would have expected from Evanston I know. I’ve lived here for over 25 years, and I’ve seen several changes for the worse, especially increasing over the past 2-3 years. Why would that be?

  4. Once again, rewarding bad behavior is wrong and backwards. It makes NO sense. How it is that critical thinking has all but disappeared in Evanston???

    At the very least, homeless shelters should, at a minimum, adhere to the same standards as hotels and rooming houses, whether it has to do with making a list of occupants readily accessible to police, not allowing substance abuse or crime, or anything else…

    In fact, someone with a little wisdom might even expect for those rules to perhaps even be a little more stringent for the homeless shelters, rather than to be more lax!

    Why should the rules be more lax for homeless shelters than for anywhere else people are allowed to sleep overnight??? That makes no sense.

    Common sense has gone completely astray in Evanston.

  5. This ordinance needs additional work.

    –Our neighborhood is certainly against the Margarita Inn supporting substance abuse. This is contrary to setting people on a path for success. This prohibition needs to remain.

    –A register of those living at the shelter is a requirement for any rooming house. By eliminating this requirement it lays the groundwork for the Margarita to become a safe haven for anyone wishing to hide from authorities for whatever reasons. This requirement should be stand.

    –The refusal to cooperate with public safety officers is a key one claiming the “Homeless Bill of Rights” gives them the right to reuse entry or even identify anyone at the Margarita. It does no such thing (see https://law.justia.com/codes/illinois/2016/chapter-775/act-775-ilcs-45/) but their continued refusal to cooperate is evidence that Connections believe they do not need to comply with the law which places the neighborhood, Ward, Downtown businesses, and city at some risk.

    –The ordinance states it is not to provide a permanent residence but fails to define permanent. As people have been staying at the Margarita for over a year, does that classify them as permanent? This needs to be defined.

    –Proof of insurance should be required and provided on an annual basis not only to protect the building owners but for the safety of the neighborhood, especially those nearby businesses and residences.

    –The facility should be open for random and unannounced safety inspections to monitor for overcrowding at least, for which the facility has been cited in the past.

    There is more work that needs to be done with this ordinance before it consumes any city council consideration.

  6. At some point the mayor and city manager have to be held accountable for what’s happening in the fourth ward. Between Margarita Inn and Albany Care, this issue has become a serious emergency, and yet our city’s leadership is doing absolutely nothing. The homeless and mentally ill who live in these facilities aren’t appearing out of thin air. They are being placed and concentrated in the fourth ward by active decision making by the city. The CITY is causing the issues we’re seeing in the fourth ward, not the homeless people themselves. If it weren’t for the city’s terrible decision making and complete disregard to Evanston tax paying residents, we wouldn’t be seeing these issues. Needless to say, it’s time to move. Between this and the recent lift of restrictions from Albany Care, there is no hope for the fourth ward.

    1. What I would like to know is, are downtown businesses leaving or planning to move because of the problems? Or, is downtown Evanston losing businesses to other areas? Evanston has always had homeless people, but only recently have I seen people camping at Fountain Square and against the side of Dewey School in the mornings. Things have definitely changed. I wouldn’t want to try to run a business on Davis or Sherman the way things are now. This isn’t just a 4th ward problem, either. All of Evanston uses downtown.

      1. I heard that if this goes thru Bennisons will relocate to a city further North of Evanston.
        To lose such a business is mind boggling.

  7. Please be advised fellow Evanston residents—-city officials supporting this Connections and Margarita plan are not listening to you—-it’s clearly obvious a substantial majority of Evanstonians oppose this plan and for good reason—-this is a bad idea thats already had a significantly negative impact on the community and will only get worse—-I live directly across the alley from The Margarita—-during the time Connections has been operating at the Margarita I’ve seen, reported and confirmed numerous drug deals being carried out in the alley—-I’ve broken up fights with one showing two residents brutally beating an elderly male resident—-routinely seen residents hanging around the post office drinking and catcalling female passerby’s—-residents panhandling around downtown Evanston…one can understand the need for such a facility but this plan is not the solution—-the level of violence, drugs, and multiple concerning issues will only continue to have a seriously negative impact on the neighborhood and city—-are tax paying residents of Evanston actually going to be forced to accept this plan thats destined to bring nothing but serious problems?—-sadly it appears so

  8. Dear Mr. Brinkmann,
    Your experiences of what you see in the alley sound very similar to mine. I have lived in Evanston – in the Fourth Ward- for almost 40 years, (38 years currently). We do not want to move. We have attended two meetings but have remained quiet as we have not found them to be an honest search for a real solution, but rather a statement on behalf of the current Alderman’s plans and his virtuous call to “do the right thing”. He does not live nearby, however so I do not know how he can judge the concerns of people like us who do. It does not seem that he cares about feedback, which is why we have never bothered to give him our concerns. However, it is very unfortunate to see the City allowing this project to move ahead; even for the sake of the people who live in the building. They deserve better care and more oversight. Doing the “right thing” doesn’t necessarily mean accepting a mediocre provider because they claim to try hard. I wonder what citizens can do when they do not have government representatives who vote on their behalf. Please someone, explain to me. I understand from reading previous articles that a recall is not possible. I know that my friends who no longer drive plan to request help to get to the next polls. Is there nothing else to do? Financially, our homes , condos, and coops will be affected by this. Our homes are what we plan to give to our families and, now when finances are hard for people with interest rates rising and a recession in the horizon- if not already here- I do not see the sense of placing this shelter in this district. What does a person do when City officials ignore their constituents? I am not a young person. My days of going to many meetings and asking the people at City Hall to pay attention to any matter are in the past. I cannot write letters and pass out fliers and attend Office Hours. I do not want to have to explain that living next to a constantly changing group of 60-80 people who are constantly drinking, taking drugs, and are, in all different ways unstable is not appropriate for this location. There were two prostitutes at the corner of the alley for many nights. Why would we bring this into the middle of our city?
    I know many many other people in our building in the same situation. We have dutifully lived in this town for many many years. We have paid our taxes. We patronize all the local stores. We bring our families here on holidays. We have worked in soup kitchens and given to charities our entire lives. Do we count for nothing? This is very inconsiderate to the retired and elderly who want to live independently. What a slap in the face after all these years of proudly supporting our City.

    1. It would seem officials don’t feel beholden to the beleaguered citizen. If not acting is to lose ones quality of life and equity built over a lifetime, one solution would be to form a union of a dozen or so people, meet at the library or somewhere and run for office on a platform of “civilized rights”.

  9. To Evanston’s elected officials reading these comments:

    1. Please take the comments seriously.
    2. Please better educate yourselves on the failures of “Housing First”.
    3. Please represent all of your constituents citywide and refrain from biases resulting from the excessive virtue signaling running rampant.
    4. Investigate Evanston’s “homeless “ issue more thoroughly in order to more effectively solve the issue.
    5. Be willing to benchmark with other cities who have their homeless issue effectively under control.

    Connections is currently running a full-bore homeless shelter at Margarita Inn unregulated and from some of these comments, it seems in a very ineffective manner. The City appears to be ignoring this and apparently doesn’t realize the harm and risk this poses to ALL of us, including those Connections claims to be helping.

  10. Many of the complaints I’ve seen mention drug use and loitering as their major objections, so I wonder if there is a way to address them specifically. Are there treatment options available to residents suffering from drug addiction? What options do they have for spending their waking hours? Do they have places to go during the day? Are they receiving adequate medical treatment for psychiatric illness? No one wakes up one day and decides that they want to sleep in alleys. Being unhoused is a symptom, not the illness itself. Long lasting solutions are going to require a network of services.

    1. Hi Margaret! To answer some of your questions:

      “Are there treatment options available to residents suffering from drug addiction?”
      Yes, but these are “optional”, no one is required to undergo any treatment options…

      ” What options do they have for spending their waking hours? Do they have places to go during the day?”
      Some have jobs, some are busy getting their lives together. Again, no guest is “required” to do anything – so many simply lay around, sleep, watch TV, drink/drug, etc. The Case Managers offer an array of classes/seminars, but attendance at best is “sparse”…

      “Are they receiving adequate medical treatment for psychiatric illness?”
      A few are, but many more are not. Again, the guests have access to excellent physical and mental health resources, but no guests are required to seek treatment. As a result, there a number of Margarita guests who ignore their mental health issues – and thus are a danger to themselves and others…

      Connections has excellent and qualified support staff, but partaking of these support services is “optional” for guests…

      A major reason I did not like working at Connections as an SSDI Benefits Support Specialist was because of the clients’ absolute refusal to engage with me… applying for Social Security Disability is a long and onerous process, and I could not work with those who were not serious about the process…

  11. It will be very difficult to address this problem because of how we use language. When we refer to this population of “homeless” people we are really talking about the same people who populate the psychiatric nursing homes. I have worked in these psychiatric nursing homes on Sheridan Rd. running social support groups for the residents. These residents require a good deal of care and intervention. They do not receive it. These psychiatric nursing homes are essentially dumping grounds and are not designed to provide sufficient support for the residents. And in these nursing homes the residents are required to be inside all day and night until they can demonstrate the kind of emotional stability to manage themselves outside. And there is no alcohol allowed what so ever. Now I can not imagine what a resident of the Margarita Inn is going to do all day long by himself/herself. A whole day alone outside in the community is a recipe for disaster not only for the community but also for the resident him/herself. And you are adding alcohol to the mix, compounding the problem for the resident who needs continual support to stay functioning. Doing the right thing requires a much more thoughtful conversation
    .

  12. Where is Jan Shakowsky in all of this? Where is the Mayor’s opinion? Where are the elected officials who are supposed to be supporting, defending and protecting the law abiding and tax paying citizens of Evanston? I don’t see any elected officials saying or doing anything to support the rights of those citizens who have lived in and contributed t this city for decades. Who can keep this discussion alive and help to gain some traction in the right direction? I am about ready to move out of Evanston due to the lack of responsible and dutiful leadership here.

  13. I live three doors from the Margarita Inn and have attended all of the meetings, and have met with both Council people and Connections staff. My opinion is that the proposed revisions to Ordinance 65-O-2 needs *much* more work before they are moved to the full council for a vote. To use Council Person Nieuwsma’s words, “let’s do this right,” so we avoid another Albany Care down the road. There are numerous clauses in the proposed revisions worded to make them ineffective in providing the city with adequate protection to protect the neighbors and downtown. Here are a few examples:
    – Alcohol is allowed, even though a large percentage of homeless have substance abuse issues, so we’re in effect condoning it (as Gregory points out above).
    – There is no maximum length of stay specified, so it could become permanent housing for some. Since there’s a waiting list, this is unfair to those who can be moved to permanent residency.
    – The proposed revisions only say that an operator must have guidelines for admission and eviction, and says nothing as to what the guidelines should be, and even more troubling, does not include language that requires an operator to follow its own guidelines — it simply has to submit them.
    – It does not spell out any requirement for an operator to monitor and manage behavior of its residents outside of the facility, yet that is precisely where most of the reported problems have occurred.
    – There is no process for appealing a decision to renew or deny the annual license beyond the City Manager.
    – There is no demand for insurance or escrow to cover situations where a resident sues the city for damages, which puts the city at financial risk.
    – No restrictions on visitation are specified, though many of the problems that have been reported were caused by visitors of Inn residents.

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