Evanston seeking feedback on hotel-turned-homeless shelter

Evanston officials and residents are debating the future of a hotel that now serves as a homeless shelter.

The vacant Margarita Hotel at 1566 Oak Avenue became a shelter in 2020 to address homelessness during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A City Human Services Committee meeting on August 1 was canceled and feedback about the shelter will be taken from the public at a future meeting.

The Evanston-based nonprofit, Connections for the Homeless, operates the shelter and plans to hold at least a dozen meetings for those who reside within half a mile of the building, according to Nia Tavoularis, director of development and communications.

While many seem to support the mission of the shelter, some are accusing the shelter’s residents of causing problems such as loitering in the area. And several crimes have also occurred inside the building, police officials said.

Police at the Human Services Committee meeting in July spoke to the board about another altercation that began after the hotel owner’s son apparently got upset that a resident exposed himself.

Police used a taser on the man at the scene.

“(The officer) deployed the taser so the individual would stop punching (the officer) in the face,” Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington told the board.

Connections for the Homeless Executive Director Betty Bogg told the board in July that the incident was unfortunate and added that the group was close to getting permanent housing for him after working with him for a year and a half.

“The escalation unfortunately was such that the police had to be called there,” Bogg said. “The resident was arrested and removed from the Margarita and cannot return.”

She said many residents at the shelter have experienced homelessness and trauma and violence in their lives. “The Margarita gives people a chance to catch their breath and organize their lives in a supportive environment and eventually move to a stable living arrangement.”

One of the group’s main goals is to purchase the building. The current owner has more than $400,000 in unpaid taxes on the building and must sell, officials said.

Evanston resident John Cleave, 61, lives three buildings away and told Pioneer Press on Monday that people are hanging out on the streets. He also said that there are some serious incidents that he has observed but declined to discuss them because he is afraid it might make certain community members upset.

Cleave said he is just hoping for a strong ordinance that will benefit both the residents and the city. “We would like to see less problems,” Cleave said. “We want to make sure security is there and that the organization is doing its job: finding residents permanent housing.”

Joseph Ruzich is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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