Evanston residents voice concerns about hotel turned into homeless shelter during pandemic

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- There are growing concerns about a hotel that's now being used as a homeless shelter in north suburban Evanston.

The Margarita Inn on Oak Avenue began housing homeless people in March 2020 - the initial outbreak of the pandemic - when municipalities asked hotels to take in people who had been living in shelters.

Evanston-based nonprofit Connections for the Homeless facilitated the arrangement. Director of Development Nia Tavoularis said the organization would like to remain at the Margarita Inn permanently.

"Our long-term ambition is to continue to operate this non-congregate, hotel-style shelter," Tavoularis said. "Our hope is to absolutely do it at the Margarita Inn."

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Some neighbors of the Margarita Inn say they are concerned about the shelter's impact on the community.

Evanston police said emergency calls have gone up significantly in the past two years. Evanston residents Chris Dillow and John Cleave believe there's an issue of safety.

"There's folks that are not handling themselves appropriately," Dillow said.

"My wife and daughter have both been harassed by residents at the inn," Cleave said.

Cleve and Dillow said they are pushing for more transparency on how the shelter is run.

"What's the governance that they're going to be doing inside?" Cleve said. "Will you have 24/7 security? Are you gonna have cameras in the halls?"

In the meantime, Connections said they want to be a good neighbor and acknowledge the inn has created a difference in the community.

"We know from the pandemic that the people who had the biggest impact from this pandemic are poor people of color," Tavoularis said. "The largest percentage of people we serve are poor people of color."

While there is no official decision on the future of Connections at the Margarita Inn, a spokesperson for the city of Evanston said, in part: "The City is pleased that Connections has committed to conducting community outreach and stakeholder engagement to address neighborhood impacts as it considers future plans for the property."
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