Save Our Mental Health Centers

Members of the Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers collect signatures to get the referendums on the ballot. 

 

A new community mental health center providing services free-of-charge on the mid-South Side will be established after area voters overwhelmingly passed referendums approving it. 

The center will provide a range of counseling services and other treatments to uninsured residents from Kenwood, Hyde Park, Woodlawn and South Shore.

Two referendums appeared on ballots in several precincts within the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th 8th and 20th wards: one asked voters whether they approved establishing the center in the community, the other whether they approved funding the center with a property tax increase by 0.025% on the Equally Assessed Value (EAV) of their home. 

Of 25,502 total votes, 93.54% were in support of establishing the center, and of 25,327 total votes, 88.14% supported the property tax increase (amounting to $4 per $1000 in taxes for homeowners annually), according to the Chicago Board of Elections. 

Within Hyde Park-Kenwood, of the 10,826 votes on the measure to establish the center, 92.69% were in favor; of the 10,640 votes on funding the center, 88.05% were in favor.

Rapheal Arteberry, a lead organizer from the Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers said he was surprised it was such a high “yes” vote. “It was a higher voter turnout as well, that was crazy and really pivotal to the campaign,” he added. 

Services will be determined by a pending Community Health Needs Assessment, but could include trauma counseling and treatment for substance abuse disorders.

In 2020, Bronzeville residents passed a similar set of referendums approving a property-tax funded community mental health center, which is set to open in 2023 at 4058 S. Michigan Ave. Per a March needs assessment conducted by the center, residents of the Near South Side, Bronzeville, Douglas, Oakland, Grand Boulevard, Fuller Park and Washington Park said that the “most desired services” were group and individual counseling, followed by education programs and youth services.

These centers are a direct result of the 2011 Community Expanded Mental Health Services Act, which gives residents the ability to create community funded and approved mental health centers under the city’s Expanded Mental Health Services Program (EMHSP). 

Members of the Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers and other area groups have been organizing to re-establish fully funded centers since 1991, when Mayor Richard Daley closed seven of the city’s 19 public mental health centers. In 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed half of the remaining clinics. Of the five centers still operating today, only one is accessible on the mid-South Side: Kenwood’s Greater Grand Mental Health, 4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave. 

The groups said they gathered signatures the last two summers in order to get the referendum on the ballot. 

Though the location has yet to be determined, in an August interview with Herald, Rebecca Jarco, assistant director of the coalition, said the location will be centrally located and accessible by public transport. 

Similar referendums to establish a community mental health clinic also appeared on the ballot for residents of West Town, which residents passed with 85.43% “yes” votes. 

Next steps include the creation of a governing commission of nine residents and two mental health professionals, appointed by Governor J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, to manage the funds and assess needed services.

Arteberry said that creating the center is a “two to three year project,” and that the commission will also be tasked with selecting the location and holding public meetings. 

George and Tanger Fielder, South Shore residents who organize with the coalition, said that community needs will include treatment for post-traumatic stress disorders from community violence, depression and the stress that comes from living in poverty. 

“(The referendums) sets a good and effective precedent for a way to engage the community to address its own needs, and even to go a step further, to help provide the funding that we do need for our own situations that need to be remedied,” George Fielder said. 

“This could be a good vehicle to use in the future, so that we’re more connected to the political system, and we don’t have to feel like people in political offices can’t hear us or can’t attend to our needs,” he added. 

staff writer

Zoe Pharo is a graduate of Carleton College. She was recently an editorial intern for In These Times, and has also written for Little Village and Chapel Hill Magazine. 

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