Emotional meeting about homeless housing at Margarita Inn draws hundreds

Margarita Inn
Community members packed a meeting at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, March 13, to discuss the future of housing for homeless people at the Margarita Inn. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

More than 200 people crowded into St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Sunday to engage in an intense and, at times, emotional discussion about plans involving an Evanston hotel that has been housing people on an emergency basis during the pandemic.

The Margarita Inn, 1566 Oak Ave., began serving as housing for homeless people at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Evanston and other municipalities asked hotels to take in people who had been living in shelters.

Evanston-based nonprofit Connections for the Homeless facilitated the arrangement and now seeks to convert the hotel into a permanent facility that could serve up to 63 people in 41 rooms.

Some community members who spoke at the meeting felt that Connections for the Homeless should go through the zoning process before enacting such a momentous change. They also stressed the need for a study to evaluate how a facility for the homeless would impact the community. 

But others, including former residents of the Margarita Inn, said the services provided are invaluable. 

Former Margarita Inn resident said he isn’t sure where he would be if it weren’t for Connections for the Homeless. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

One man said when he first came to Evanston, he was depressed and had lost everything. 

He said if it weren’t for Connections for the Homeless, he isn’t sure where he would be. Staff watched over those in their care, but also befriended them, he said. With rest and support, he was able to get back up. Now, he said, he has a job and a commercial driver’s license. 

Charles Austin, though, said he has lived on Lake Street for 35 years. Every time he wants to make a change to his historic house, he has to get zoning approval, and he believes the Margarita Inn should do the same.