I live four doors away from the Margarita temporary homeless shelter. Because the Special Use Permit meeting before the LUC [Land Use Commission] is coming up on April 26, I’m writing with some perspectives on what to do about people experiencing homelessness in Evanston.
My immediate neighbors and I are not against a shelter on Oak Street. We’ve said this several times, but as Mr. Cameel Halim recently wrote, our words have been twisted.
In reality, we have been relaying research and ideas about the shelter and homelessness to the City Council, mayor and staff for more than two years.
Evanston cannot simply outsource a solution to homelessness; the issue has grown too serious. Current operations are causing more harm than good, as residents and businesses have attested.
The City needs to take charge and build a plan, one that is independent of the objectives of Connections for the Homeless.
The City can be a leader, rather than a follower of Connections. One idea, put forth by [First Ward City Council Member] Clare Kelly, is to create a scaled-down, mixed-use shelter.
This type of model can help dispel the stigma of homelessness, the very stigma that has been perpetuated at the Margarita fortress. A shelter of temporary housing with a restaurant or cafe would normalize living as and living with homelessness. If Evanston’s goal is intentional integration, this is part of it.
The shelter must be for local people experiencing homelessness. Giving a leg up to Evanston families, men, women and children should be its goal and mission. As one alderperson said to me in a meeting, “This is Evanston. We take care of our own.”
Quality over quantity should be the policy. Studies show it’s unhealthy to crowd 70 people experiencing varying levels of crisis into one building.
A maximum of 30 residents will give a better outcome of success, with a preference for Evanston families, men, women and children. Evanston school-aged children especially deserve that chance for success.
Living with the shelter for three years, I’ve seen the effect on my neighborhood and downtown. There’s been a significant downturn. Where none occurred before the shelter, I now see drug deals on the corner and defecation on my lawn.
The major factor for this activity is Connection’s model for the shelter. It is not designed as a local resource. Instead, it’s a regional northern Illinois homeless hub that serves multiple municipalities.
To help steer policy for a shelter that works for all stakeholders, including City residents, businesses, Connections and its clients, the neighborhood has authored a new Good Neighbor Agreement. In doing so, we hope the City will listen to our input, and that of all Evanston residents, and build a better plan for the shelter.
I urge you to think critically about the issue of homelessness in Evanston. It’s easy to agree that we must do something to help the unhoused in our community. But sentiment and cheerleading won’t solve the problem. I urge you also to write the City Council members, mayor and city manager with your constructive thoughts on the issue.
I appreciate Roundtable publishing these two letters, with their differing perspectives, on the eve of the LUC’s next meeting regarding the future of the Margarita Inn.
The sentiments Diana Durkes expressed are real and should be taken into account. People are offended and even outraged when they see strangers outside their homes behaving inappropriately. Still, a comparison of her letter with that of Susan Munro and Toni Rey makes clear that her anecdotal evidence is counter-weighted by quantifiable evidence that the Margarita experiment is working for a vast majority of those who have lived there since 2020. No evidence is presented that cutting the Margarita’s capacity from 70 to 30 will eliminate Diana Durkes’ concerns, but it would certainly reduce Connections’ ability to help the homeless.