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.