Connections for the Homeless presents Margarita Inn listening session responses, Good Neighbor Agreement


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

Margarita Inn has operated as a fixed-site homeless shelter since March 2021.

Connections for the Homeless presented its findings on concerns related to the Margarita Inn after hosting 17 listening sessions for community members over the summer. The organization discussed steps for moving forward at Wednesday’s 4th Ward meeting.

The organization uses the inn to provide unhoused people with 24-hour shelter and social services support. Now, some community members said they want to see more oversight from the city, questioning the organization’s transparency.

[Read more about the mixed feedback from community members on Margarita Inn’s acquisition]

During the listening sessions, 4th Ward residents shared concerns and provided feedback on the organization’s current acquisition process. 

Connections brought in Elena Navas-Nacher, a community health scientist who specializes in bringing communities together, to help facilitate these meetings. Navas-Nacher said resident feedback centered primarily around three themes: interest in programs and services, potential neighborhood impact and the inn’s acquisition. During these meetings, Connections answered resident questions in virtual and in-person formats. Meetings are expected to last through the end of the year. 

Navas-Nacher said residents asked about how Connections funds its programs and determines its success with its residents. Attendees of these meetings were primarily white and 45-years-old or older, she said. 

Some neighbors were concerned about addressing panhandling and safety in the area around the inn. Concerns about the “magnet effect,” or the idea that increased services will draw an increased houseless population, also made their way to the discussion. 

“(There are) perceptions that the shelter of the Margarita Inn will attract people who have problems,” Navas-Nacher said. “There is nobody who doesn’t have bias about certain types of people or conditions that people may be living in. So I think it is important to realize that homelessness does not discriminate.” 

Residents also voiced concerns about the inn’s acquisition process and the neighborhood agreement. Betty Bogg, Connections’ executive director, outlined the current status of the inn’s zoning. 

The city upheld Margarita Inn’s rooming house designation, even after two separate appeals, but deemed its special use permit expired. Bogg said Connections has worked “diligently” on the special use application, but the process is still pending. This means Connections can continue operations but has not proceeded with zoning.  

“(We) are unable to submit (the application) until the current owner of the Margarita Inn agrees to sign the application,” Bogg said. “We’ve been negotiating in good faith. And as of today, Connections continues to wait for the property owner’s signature in order to submit that application.” 

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) presented on the process of creating the Good Neighbor Agreement, a new document that will create a written relationship between Connections and the surrounding community. Nieuwsma said he would take a more hands-off approach with the GNA and leave the development of the agreement to the community and Connections. 

He proposed creating a self-selected working group from residents in the community and proposed five stakeholder groups: homeowners, renters, business owners, property owners and landlords, and Connections itself. Some community members suggested Margarita Inn residents should have a stake in these working groups as well. 

“My goal here is not going to be as a City Council member to be a party to the Good Neighbor Agreement,” Nieuwsma said. “It won’t be my agreement, won’t be the city’s agreement. It will be the neighborhood’s agreement with Connections.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @joannah_11

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In Focus: As Connections for the Homeless looks to purchase the Margarita Inn, residents remain divided on the building’s future

Land Use Commission upholds rooming house designation for Margarita Inn, special use permit still expired