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Evanston has a high share of homeless beds

Evanston has just 3% of Cook County’s suburban population, but it has nearly 16% of the homeless shelter beds in the county’s suburbs.

The federal government’s 2022 estimates of homelessness in the United States, released last month, show suburban Cook County is doing relatively well — compared to other areas — in housing its homeless population.

Data for sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons specific to Evanston is not available from the HUD report.

On the date the homeless count was conducted last year, just 1,096 of suburban Cook County’s 2.47 million residents were counted as homeless, and only 9% of them were unsheltered.

The federal count showed 738 suburban Cook residents in emergency shelters, 239 in transitional housing and 20 in safe haven housing, mainly for domestic violence victims.

The homeless count is being repeated this week in suburban Cook County, with updated results expected to be released by the end of the year.

Evanston currently has 20 winter-season emergency shelter shelter beds provided by Interfaith Action, 70 transitional housing beds at the Margarita Inn operated by Connections for the Homeless and, after an expansion last year, 66 safe haven shelter beds for domestic violence victims operated by the YWCA Evanston/North Shore.

That gives Evanston substantially more homeless shelter beds per capita than the rest of Suburban Cook County or the City of Chicago.

In addition, Connection last month received a $2 million federal grant to rehab and expand the currently closed congregate shelter at Hilda’s Place, 1458 Chicago Ave.

Nia Tavoularis, chief development officer for Connections, says that will let Hilda’s provide overnight shelter year-round for 30 to 50 people.

Tavoularis says the new version of Hilda’s will replace the winter-season shelters now provided by Interfaith Action that rotate among a half dozen different houses of worship.

She says Evanston would need about 200 shelter beds to fully meet the need for sheltering the homeless.

Kristen White, chief innovation officer for the YWCA, says 66 is the maximum capacity for the YW’s shelter — calculated as 23 adults and 43 children, but that occupancy is generally lower than that. The YW serves domestic violence victims in Evanston and other North Shore suburbs.

Connections currently is seeking city approval to continue its operation of the Margarita Inn facility at 1566 Oak Ave.

Some opponents of the Margarita plan suggest that it has turned Evanston into a magnet drawing homeless people to Evanston.

Joe Rocheleau, who lives about three blocks from the Margarita, at 1400 Maple Ave., says “the magnet affect is attracting vagrants and persons claiming to be homeless from all over the region to Evanston.”

“When there is no room at the Margarita Inn,” he adds, “they remain on our streets, often committing crimes and causing disorder.”

Connections also has contracted with several other communities, including Des Plaines and Skokie, to provide homeless services and claims on its website to serve 52 communities, including ones as far from Evanston as Grayslake and Barrington.

But for clients needing transitional housing, Connections’ only facility to provide that is the Margarita Inn in Evanston.

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