Evanston-based nonprofit Connections for the Homeless began housing homeless people at the Margarita Inn two years ago while under a pandemic-induced declaration of emergency. Now, the organization is pursuing a special use permit necessary to keep operating it as a shelter. (Photo by Adina Keeling) Credit: Adina Keeling

Evanston-based nonprofit Connections for the Homeless began sheltering vulnerable people at the Margarita Inn two years ago while under a pandemic-induced declaration of emergency. Now, the organization wants to take over the hotel permanently, and on Feb. 24, the nonprofit initiated the process by submitting an application to the city’s zoning department.

The Margarita Inn was named a “rooming house” in 1974, and the nonprofit wanted to see if its plans for the hotel fall within the scope of the current zoning code. 

On March 17, the city’s Zoning Department responded that although the nonprofit’s operations comply with the definition of a rooming house, the special-use permit for a rooming house expired. 

Due to the expiration, anyone interested in buying the space and operating a rooming house – categories that include a hotel or shelter – would be unable to, said Sue Loellbach, advocacy manager at Connections for the Homeless.

To continue its work at the Margarita Inn, Connections for the Homeless will need to apply for a new permit, a process that will involve a public hearing with the land use commission and a vote by the City Council. 

The nonprofit plans to move forward with the process, and in the meantime, will continue serving homeless individuals and families at the Margarita Inn. 

The process of applying for a new permit is expensive and time-consuming, but it will also allow for more community involvement, said Nia Tavoularis, the nonprofit’s Director of Development.

On March 13, more than 200 community members gathered to discuss the plans for the Margarita Inn at a public meeting hosted by Fourth Ward Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma. 

Following the meeting, Loellbach said, officials at the nonprofit felt they needed to work more closely with the community. 

“There are going to be challenges because we deal with a population that has very high needs, but we will address them, and we will work with the community,” Tavoularis said.

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...

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  1. I live at 1020 Grove, 1/2 a block from the Marguerita Inn . 1020 Grove is a senior building with approximately 48 residents. Since I’m a volunteer for Interfaith Action of Evanston, a group dedicated to providing food and shelter needs, and working closely with Connections for the Homeless, I knew homeless people were at the Marguerita Inn. The vast majority of people in my building didn’t know that fact. For the past 2 years we’ve had no negative interactions at all and we’re half a block away.

    I believe that we need to do what’s right to help our hungry and homeless neighbors.