After five in-person meetings, seven drafts and four months of work, Mayor Daniel Biss and Connections for the Homeless Chief Executive Officer Betty Bogg signed the final Good Neighbor Agreement for the Margarita Inn homeless shelter during a celebration at LeTour Wednesday evening.

Betty Bogg, executive director of Connections for the Homeless, congratulates Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss after signing the Good Neighbor Agreement. Credit: Richard Cahan

“What you have done here, in partnership with the neighborhood, is to create an infrastructure around the Margarita Inn that will ensure things go better for everyone, for the neighbors and the residents, not to mention the works of Connections, for a long time to come” Biss said at the signing event.

“If this is approved, and I sure hope it is approved, this is about providing important services for people who are suffering, people who need those services in order to be given a shot to get back on their feet.”

The signing was strictly ceremonial as the official agreement to grant the Margarita Inn an operating license and a special use permit will not be voted on by the city council until Monday, Feb. 27.

Connections will formally introduce the Good Neighbor Agreement, the full text of which is below, at the next City Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 13.

The process has taken four months and included a variety of people. After an initial meeting with Fourth Ward neighbors, residents selected a working group to write the agreement, comprised of two single-family homeowners, two condo owners, two Margarita Inn shelter residents, one renter, one landlord, two Connections staff members and three representatives for the downtown Evanston business community.

Fourth Ward Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma also had a leadership role throughout the process, and Biss thanked him for putting in “an unbelievable amount of hours” to get the agreement completed.

Participants on the working group, including homeowners Jean Cunningham and Sue Calder, along with Connections community organizer Max Seeley, said the agreement is meant to be a living document that is updated regularly based on the needs and desires of the community.

The agreement includes a provision for a 24-hour phone number (224-422-7969) that neighbors can call for assistance if they experience any issues with the Margarita Inn or its residents, which is one of the most important elements of the document, Seeley said.

But it also evolved into a reciprocal agreement, setting out not just things the residents of the Margarita Inn need to do, but how neighborhood parters should think about treating and communicating with shelter residents as outlined in the Appendix A.

“Of course, I am grateful to those who entered into the negotiations as supporters of Connections, but I am even more grateful to those who were initially hesitant to join this conversation,” Bogg said. “You had concerns and reservations. You certainly had questions, and you were willing to collaborate and find solutions, and for that, I am appreciative beyond words.”

Bogg also added that she truly enjoyed the document-drafting process because it encompassed so many values core to the mission of Connections, from inclusion to healthy dialogue to community.

Robert Todd, one of the Margarita residents who served on the Good Neighbor Agreement working group, told the RoundTable that he and his fiancé had been sleeping outside near the lake for more than 100 days, when Sam Alden, an outreach specialist with Connections, started visiting them periodically.

Eventually, Alden helped Todd and his partner get a spot at the Hilda’s Place shelter, and then the Margarita Inn just before Thanksgiving. A roof over their heads “was the best Thanksgiving ever,” Todd said.

“I’d just like to thank Connections. They’re life changers, if not life savers,” Todd said. “The community should be happy to have Connections, because they’re getting people off the streets. They’re feeding them, they’re keeping them warm, they’re giving them hope where there was no hope before.”

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. The City of Evanston poured millions of dollars of TIF money into redeveloping downtown and making into a place where people would want to go to live, work, shop. And for a time, certainly pre-pandemic, that worked. There is ample evidence that this is not really the case any more, and Connections is a big part of why. We are on the edge of taking the millions of tax dollars that we invested and setting it on fire. Utter foolishness.

    The idea that there is going to be an obscure phone number that people can call when they are having problems with Margarita residents and that this will solve problems is ridiculous. Are you prepared to program that number into your phone or memorize it so that you can make that call when you are being subjected to the well-documented misbehavior or Maragarita residents? Or are you just going to leave and not return? People are already giving their answer to that question.

    If the powers that be are waving around this Good Neighbor Agreement as evidence that Connections desires to be a good neighbor rather than what they have been to date, why not delay the vote and see if they are willing to live up to it for 3-6 months? Better yet, why not attach a series of four and five figure fines to violations of the Good Neighbor Agreement? Connections has demonstrated over a sustained period of time that they are anything but a good neighbor.

    Once they get their license, they will be impossible to dislodge. Granting them the license is foolish beyond words.

  2. I wish congress could work as well as the folks are doing who are putting this together..

    ..but then, with respect to congress, the desire of a relative few in favor of putting a 24/7 go cart race track adjacent to a sanctuary center is a gap that even the infrastructure bill isn’t capable of building a bridge across that gap.

  3. “Interestingly”, the February 13th 2023 5:00 PM Planning & Development Committee meeting to discuss the Margarita Inn matter that was scheduled before the 6:00 PM City Council meeting that same evening has “disappeared” from the Planning & Development schedule.

    Connections for the Homeless mentions both meetings on their Facebook page:

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

    Yet, looking at the Planning & Development schedule this morning, there is no scheduling meeting that evening:

    “DUTIES & RESPONSIBILITIES: This Committee addresses matters relating to planning, physical development, zoning, building conservation, preservation, housing, and relocation…”

    Is there some explanation for this?

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

    1. Yes, what about the Planning and Development Committee meeting at which the requested Special Use for the Margarita Inn is to be discussed?