Connections for the Homeless was to begin this week the next phase in the process of obtaining a special use permit for the Margarita Inn homeless shelter at the Planning and Development Committee and city council meetings Monday, Feb. 13.

But that changed Friday afternoon when Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen granted a temporary restraining order barring Evanston City Council discussions regarding the Margarita Inn.

Local real estate investor Cameel Halim requested the action, according to a Friday night announcement from Connections. Halim owns the Halim Time & Glass Museum located next to the Margarita Inn on Oak Avenue.

Halim had requested rescheduling or continuing the Land Use Commission meeting last month on the permit application so he could make public comments on the matter, but the city did not grant a continuation.

Cohen ruled Friday that Halim has a right to voice his opinion at a public meeting.

The response

“It is important to note that the ruling does not address the merits of our application, only the need for the plaintiff, Mr. Halim, to air his issues during a LUC [Land Use Commission] meeting,” Connections said in its Friday announcement.

“The LUC will hear the plaintiff, vote again on their recommendation, and the permit will once again be scheduled for a hearing and a vote before City Council.”

Betty Bogg, executive director of Connections for the Homeless, congratulates Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss after signing the Margarita Inn Good Neighbor Agreement Wednesday, Feb. 8. Credit: Richard Cahan

Halim and Evanston Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings did not immediately respond to calls and emails from the RoundTable Saturday asking about the next step.

Halim has been an outspoken critic of Connections about the location of the shelter and has spoken up at community forums on the Margarita shelter. In March 2022, he talked about a time when shelter residents were congregating outside his museum. When he asked them to leave, he said they broke some light fixtures.

At that meeting, Connections Chief Executive Officer Betty Bogg said that the nonprofit met with Halim about the residents and added that there “haven’t [been] any incidents since that one time over a year ago.” Halim responding by stressing the need for a zoning hearing and suggested Connections should build a structure in a place “where people welcome you.”

What’s next?

Despite the removal of the Margarita’s special use permit from Monday’s agenda, city council is still set to discuss reshaping its license ordinance for all shared housing.

“That allows us to very closely and appropriately regulate each individual applicant as is necessary and applicable to that applicant,” Fourth Ward Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma said at a redistricting meeting on Saturday afternoon.

Once Halim has a chance to provide his testimony, the Land Use Commission will vote on the special use permit again before it returns to the full council, he said.

“Legally, we’re in a standstill status,” until the injunction is lifted, said Second Ward Council Member Krissie Harris.

However, Harris was optimistic about community input on the Margarita Inn. “Hopefully we’ll figure it out and everybody will feel heard,” she said. “That’s the most important thing.”

In a Saturday phone call, Bogg told the RoundTable she and her team have not yet seen the court order, which names the city, rather than Connections.

She said since that first incident, Halim has not made any subsequent complaints.

“We’re doing this to serve the community. … We’re doing a good thing, so it’s hard to have these continuous roadblocks,” Bogg said.

“This is taking a toll on us, and we’re extraordinarily grateful that our supporters believe in us. One of our core values is resilience, and we get to demonstrate that. We’re going to stay in it, and we’re going to prevail.”

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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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Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

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  1. Long before Margarita Inn, Connections for the Homeless, Evanston wasn’t a good place for all human kind to live. People that call this place home, change or they don’t.
    From what I’m hearing little has changed.
    Skokie is looking better than ever.

  2. “We’re doing this to serve the community. … We’re doing a good thing, so it’s hard to have these continuous roadblocks,” Bogg said. (quote from article)

    I don’t recall Evanston residents ever requesting Ms Bogg and Connections services—-and it’s important Evanston residents know Ms Bogg doesn’t even live here…I happen to live across the alley from The Margarita Inn—-and ever since the building’s been under Connections management I’ve seen nothing but illegal and nuisance related issues—-drug deals, public intoxication, panhandling, fights, and wide variety of lewd behaviors—-as if this isn’t enough my wife is routinely subjected to crude cat calling by Margarita residents…But I’m willing to put forth a compromise—-if Ms Bogg moves into the Margarita full time and personally guarantees the residents will behave in a respectful and law abiding manner then fine, I’ll fully support Connections use of the the building…if not then I humbly ask why?—-if Ms Bogg is so concerned as claims to be and considering the generous (publicly available) salary she receives then it shouldn’t be an issue—I live next door to all the public nuisances for nothing—-I call this a fair and equitable request

  3. From the above article:

    “We’re doing this to serve the community. … We’re doing a good thing, so it’s hard to have these continuous roadblocks,” Bogg said…”

    Excerpted from the March 14th, 2022 ‘Evanston Roundtable’ article referenced above:

    Emotional meeting about homeless housing at Margarita Inn draws hundreds

    “Police data shows uptick in calls:

    According to police data presented by Nieuwsma and Interim Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington, there has been an uptick in police calls from the Margarita Inn within the last two years… Data showed the police department reported 13 calls in 2017, 16 calls in 2018 and 11 calls in 2019. The number of calls jumped to 157 in 2020, and 236 in 2021…”

    [ I do not have the 2022 numbers immediately at hand ]

    My question for Ms. Bogg, Ald. Nieuwsma, Mayor Biss, and our city officials:

    What *exactly* is Connections doing to mitigate the number of *greatly* – increased police calls to the Margarita Inn? From 11 calls in 2019 to 236 in 2021 is concerning to me – it is a **21.5** – fold increase…

    I live directly around the corner from the Margarita Inn, so IMO this is a valid question for those of us that live, work, and go to school in the adjacent area. I am one of many seniors living here; there are many children residing and also attending school here (One River School, Guidepost Montessori, Roycemore School)…

    Thank you, and I await your answer.

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  4. “We’re doing this to serve the community”- which community, Ms. Bogg? It is certainly not the Evanston community. The unhoused people of Evanston are having their services crowded, and have less access to desperately needed help because Connections is flooding Evanston with outsiders looking for services. The tax payers and renters in Evanston have diminished public services because Connections is, admittedly, transporting the unhoused from other communities into Evanston.
    I have always supported the unhoused, but Connections for the Homeless has treated this neighborhood very poorly. I will now support the efforts of Thresholds and the Night Ministry, which are exceptional, transparent, and respectful of their neighbors. Furthermore, I would like clear data and facts about what changes Connections will make with their policies regarding police, training their residents not to call the police even when in need, and training their residents not to tell the police if they live in the Margarita. The general “it’s all better” platitudes in the Mayor’s newsletter was very insulting to an educated community. The optics in the past week are very unbecoming, and have now pushed me to become a vocal critic of our City’s procedures and management. Why is the Mayor signing an agreement intended for neighbors? Before the vote was taken? Advocating aldermen to vote a certain way? Invoking a moralistic reminder of our “collective communities’ values”? What community would prioritize feeding, clothing, and sheltering people from far away before their own? Who would feed other children before their own, without being absolutely sure that there was enough for everyone? We are not sure. No studies have been completed and no research requested. The city simply
    “Asked Betty.” I was not an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Halim before because his projects take so long. However, he follows the law. Even the Connections newsletter response conveys their dismissal of him- their neighbor- as someone who just needs to “air out his grievances”. If they describe him this way, I am not surprised that they refer to the other neighbors as busybodies NIMBYS. The relationship between Connections, Mayor Biss, and Alderman Nieuwsma is inappropriate. Connections should follow the same rules everyone else does. They are not providing a service to Evanston residents exclusively. They should have no privilege and the City must stop all gestures of favoring this project.