Evanston City Council members on Sept. 12 approved an allocation of $508,000 in federal Covid recovery funds to a Brooklyn-based company to provide enhanced cleaning and maintenance to the city’s downtown and other commercial areas.
But the board balked at a move by several councilors to add a social services component to the contract with Sreetplus Co., LLC.
In committee, Councilman Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, suggested allocating an additional $125,000 to the company for cleaning and maintenance services, as the company has done in other cities.
“We all know that there is an increase in homelessness and violence everywhere in the area, this is not an issue in itself,” he said at a meeting of the Administration and Public Works Committee held before the full city council meeting. “The issue is that we have not responded in the way that we need to as a city to connect with individuals and get them the support they need.”
“Given the post-Covid surge in our homeless population, there is an immediate need for more staff to interact with and guide our homeless population into services,” they argued.
“In my opinion, it allows us to bypass unnecessary bureaucracy,” he said of adding the service to StreetPlace’s contract.
Councilors: Social services need to be checked
Councilwoman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, announced that City Council members will receive a report from Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare at the next meeting and that the agency’s mobile crisis response team works with homeless people in crisis situations.
With money mostly from state grants, the Trilogy team began responding to people in need in June.
“But I think what we’re talking about is very different from what downtown needs,” she argued. “We’re talking about an explosion of panhandlers, some homeless and many not.”
The proposal, which Burns supported, calls for the city to allocate $75,000 for one person to lead a program and partner with agencies that serve the homeless.
But some city council members who oppose moving on the resolution say they support the need for some social services, but question the cleaning and maintenance contract on the night’s agenda.
Councilwoman Claire Kelly, whose 1st Ward includes part of the downtown district, said she looks forward to hearing from Trilogy. She said she is meeting with the directors of the Denver Support Group’s Assisted Response program “to get a better understanding of how that very successful program has been operating.”
A push for action: “I really think it works with a little bit of courage,” she says.
“These are people. This road is not clear,” she said.
Councilman Devon Reid, 8th Ward, argued that moving forward with the program now would allow the city to start putting “dents” in the problem.
“Even if it’s a small tooth, by working with this population, we can put some people on the ground by putting the needs of the homeless and those forced to beg on the streets first,” he said.
Additionally, he said, “I think this is a total commitment to creating a safe, clean city.” Otherwise, he says, “we’re going to write a paper about what’s going on downtown, cleaning up the trash here and there without interacting with people.”
Council member Jonathan Newsma, who chaired the discussion at the committee meeting, said he fully supports the 4th Ward to train social workers on the streets.
“This is critical,” he said. “I want to go there.”
But he told council members, “I’m not in favor of adding that contract because we haven’t vetted the carrier for that.” It’s inappropriate to justify that money without really analyzing what we want and looking at other ways we can achieve that role.
According to this provider (Streetplus), “offering that service will happen and may ultimately be the right answer. But we haven’t done our homework to answer the question.
He said he wants to move forward with the program, but “I don’t want to take the first thing and realize in a month and a half, we should have done this differently.”
Council members voted 5-3 against Revelle’s proposed additional allocation of $75,000. Revelle, Burns and Reid cast the dissenting votes. The council voted 8-0 to approve a $508,000 contract with Streplus for the 2022-23 project.
OFFICIAL: Covid-19 staffing problems have led to issues.
In a memo to the City Council supporting the hiring of StreetPlas, City Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said Evanston’s neighborhoods are plagued by visible litter, an abundance of trash cans, stickers, signs posted on poles, rodent burrows, and delayed maintenance. With landscaped beds, abandoned bikes on bike racks, dying and/or overgrown plants, etc. The collective experience and appearance of our business districts is ever-increasing. City employees do everything they can to protect the entire community. This has become very difficult
With reduced staff due to the impact of Covid-19.
“A contract with a trusted business district cleanup team puts a dedicated team on the streets every day to meet these challenges,” Zalmezak said. The cleanup team is trained to report 311 maintenance issues beyond their reach, such as tree trimming, broken lights, parking meter boxes, sidewalk paving and rodent burrows.
He added that the Downtown Evanston Special Service Area Agreement, which has played a key role in downtown marketing, will allow the organization to focus on that service.
“Downtown Evanston estimates that $100,000 of their annual budget will be spent on maintenance,” he said.
Meanwhile, Zalmezak wrote: “Fountain Square is not maintained to the standard it should be for this popular destination.” It was opened without increasing the amount of money needed to maintain it. Many of the tables were destroyed by skis, some were damaged from overuse, many of the outdoor dining areas were covered in leftover food. A clean team will protect Fountain Square,” Zalmezak said.