Connections for the Homeless will work with the city to develop a “three-legged stool of community oversight” for the permanent operation of an overnight homeless shelter at the Margarita Inn, Fourth Ward Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma announced Tuesday.

Joined by Connections Executive Director Betty Bogg, Nieuwsma outlined the system to constituents during the Tuesday, July 5 ward meeting at Robert Crown Community Center. He said it will include Connections obtaining a new Special Use Permit, City Council creating a stronger licensing ordinance for overnight shelters in general, and a fully developed Good Neighbor Agreement signed by all parties.

Fourth Ward Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma

“I am supportive of the work that we are doing here, I’m supportive of the work that Betty and her team at Connections are doing,” Nieuwsma said.

“Going back 20 years, we know we need a permanent facility to house Evanston residents and their families who are in need of housing,” Nieuwsma said. “We now have the opportunity in front of us to do something that our community knows that we need … do it right and really be an example for other communities.”

Bogg said Connections plans to host eight to 12 “small listening sessions” at the Inn over the next two months, allowing attendees to see the shelter for themselves and ask questions. Some sessions will be focused on engaging specific people and businesses, such as those in downtown Evanston, on Davis Street, and in larger apartment complexes around the Inn.

Bogg said the feedback received in these sessions, and through other means from residents who can’t attend in person, will be collected and delivered during a public “report back” meeting tentatively scheduled for Sept. 7.

“We hope that anyone who attends will attest to the integrity of the process,” Bogg said. “And if it doesn’t feel like there’s integrity, you’ll give us that feedback right away.”

City manager and police chief hiring updates

Nieuwsma said city council is “forging ahead” with the search for a new city manager, and is currently narrowing down a new pool of candidates delivered by recruitment firm Stanton Chase. He said they are working “expeditiously” to fill the role permanently due to the imminent resignation of interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski, and that they may bring only one candidate to a public meeting if a clear favorite emerges in council discussion. 

“I think the intention would be to [hold a public meeting] before the council votes officially to approve a contract, because we do need that community input, we need that community buy-in,” Nieuwsma said.

Meanwhile, the search for a new permanent police chief has been narrowed down to around nine or 10 viable candidates, according to Niuewsma. This hiring process is different than for the city manager – and it is the city manager, not the council, who makes the final decision on a new chief contract.

Niuewsma said that while council has an internal candidate in mind to succeed Gandurski as interim city manager, he doesn’t expect any major changes or delays to the police chief search because of the resignation.

Ward redistricting

Nieuwsma also shared information from the Redistricting Committee, which he chairs. He shared a rough timeline that aims to have new ward maps approved in May 2023, and said the committee plans to take a “low-touch” approach, which makes minor adjustments instead of starting from scratch.

A map of Evanston’s current wards and their population imbalances, and the Redistricting Committee’s target timeline for creating and approving a new ward map. (Credit: Alex Harrison)

He said this will likely include keeping downtown split, retaining three majority minority wards and keeping the number of wards at nine. However, he added that the committee is not opposed to following different criteria given by residents during the community feedback period.

“I gathered while doing research on this process that when it last happened 20 years ago, and also [10 years before that], both of those times it was terribly contentious,” Nieuwsma said. “I definitely hope we can get through this with a minimal amount of drama and angst.”

Two virtual town halls on redistricting will be held this month: both from 7 to 8:30 p.m. the first July 13 in English, the second July 20 in Spanish.

For the RoundTable’s previous story on the ward redistricting initiative, click here.

Alex Harrison reports on local government, public safety, developments, town-gown relations and more for the RoundTable. He graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in June...