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Evanston’s Connections for the Homeless to receive Endeavor Health grant

Endeavor Health has gifted Evanston nonprofit Connections for the Homeless a $400,000 grant over the next two years to launch a pilot program aimed at providing interim shelter for medical respites, those discharged from hospitals without anywhere to go.

The program would house those with extra care needs, such as those recovering from surgery or other procedures, at the newly acquired Margarita Inn. The inn has served as a homeless shelter since Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced stay at home orders in March 2020 in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. Connections has operated the shelter ever since and has hammered out an operating agreement with the city, been granted the necessary zoning changes and special use permit to operate and purchased the hotel with help from Cook County ARPA funding coffers.

“If you or I got our hip replaced, we’d be out of the hospital in 24 hours and we could go recover at home,” Connections CEO Betty Bogg said. “If you don’t have a home, that’s not possible.”

Connections was one of 43 Chicagoland organizations that received part of more than $10.2 million in funding through Endeavor’s Community Investment Fund, designed to help address health needs including housing and access to medical care, according to a news release. Funding for 2024 also focused on needs including behavioral health, violence prevention, food insecurity and workforce development, according to a news release from Endeavor. Launched in 2022, the fund has provided over $21.4 million to Chicagoland partnerships, per the news release.

Other grant recipients include Midwest Refuah Health Center in Chicago, Greater Family Health in Franklin Park, Shelter INC. in Palatine, Youth Services in Naperville and ONE Northside in Chicago.

“Our Community Investment Fund has made a remarkable impact since its launch in 2022, touching over 211,000 lives and supporting a significant expansion of behavioral health counseling, bilingual health education and mobile medical services in our communities,” said Endeavor’s Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer Kristen Murtos.

Jelani Davis, 51, is already part of the program after being discharged from Loyola University Medical Center following a two-month stay and a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, a condition that runs in his family. Doctors told Davis his heart was operating at 10% capacity when he was admitted and would likely need to have a Left Ventricle Assist Device surgically implanted. He was also placed on the heart transplant list.

The diagnosis turned Davis’ world upside down. He was living in Tijuana at the time to save on housing costs and working as a chef in San Diego for the Hilton Hotel chain and the San Diego Yacht Club.

“I made 51. I know I’m young and I still have a life ahead of me,” Davis said. “Honestly, I think Connections has paved the way where I could possibly see 20 good more years.”

After being diagnosed, he returned to Chicago to receive treatment as his insurance only covered him there. He had previously been flying home every six months in order to get care. Immediately following his discharge, Davis was sent to Elevate Care in Northbrook, a home for the elderly and infirmed. He was eventually told his condition was too stable to be staying at Elevate and was faced with having nowhere to live. Staff there recommended Connections and he came to the Margarita Inn around Thanksgiving 2023.

Since his stay began, he has been able to view an apartment to give him a more stable housing situation and has begun writing a cookbook/autobiography detailing family recipes and stories about his loved ones he has titledCooking is Ministry.”

“I landed in the right spot at the right time. I don’t know how it happened but I’m not going to question it,” Davis said.