If you vote yes twice on the binding referendum Nov. 6, then yes—Logan Square, Avondale
In the past couple of months, volunteers from the Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers have been out in the neighborhood gathering signatures and spreading awareness for the possibility to have a community-based Expanded Mental Health Program (EMHP). In August, the group surpassed the required signature amount to get the tax referendum on the midterm ballot, getting over 9,000 signatures for both questions. The first question creates the EMHP and the second provides additional protection for taxpayers against an increase in the rate they have approved under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law.
The referendum asks residents to raise local taxes by .025 percent, which is about $16-24 per year or $4 for every $1000 that homeowners pay in property taxes. If this passes, it would be the third clinic in the city’s history following the successful model of the first EMHP clinic on the North Side, the Kedzie Center (4141 N. Kedzie Ave.). It opened four years ago on Oct. 29, 2014, after its community also passed the referendum with 74 percent of votes. The second clinic on the West Side is not open yet but is in its assessment stage after also getting community funding and approval in 2016 with 86 percent of votes. It is scheduled to open in early 2019.
Should the referendum pass, a mental health Needs Assessment will be created to find out what specific needs the community wants. Next, a governing body will be elected to oversee the clinic and pick the details of location, services, budgeting, etc.
By the Community, For the Community
All of these strides have been community efforts to the core. In Logan Square, Avondale and Hermosa, The Coalition’s Action Team spent 12 weeks engaging with neighbors, schools, other nonprofits, religious groups and political candidates to get awareness and signatures signed. Megan Tress, a volunteer with the Coalition and a Logan Square resident, has dedicated about 500 hours to the effort and has personal passions for the cause.
“I lost my sister to suicide in January,” Tress said. This loss propelled her to dive headfirst into local efforts to destigmatize mental health and bring access to people suffering from various mental illnesses. She herself has dealt with depression and mental health
“People are very critical of psychiatric medication and don’t believe in therapy but you can’t deny my personal experience with it,” she said about those who are not sympathetic to medication or therapy as solutions to mental health issues. “I have seen it do really good things for me. I think it’s important we talk about that.”
Tress strongly believes that mass incarceration, especially in Chicago that spends over a billion dollars on incarceration, should be funded less to give more public dollars to mental health services, an argument long battled in our state politics. More resources mean
With a background as a nurse working in the ER and now as a nurse practitioner, Tress said she has seen what the lack of mental health resources can do to patients and where they can end up—the ER, and worse, incarcerated. About 50 percent of the U.S. prison population suffers from mental health illness, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Special Report. According to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, 7,000 detainees in Cook County Jaim suffer from mental illness, according to a 2017 WTTV article.
“I had always had a passion for mental health care and I was always the nurse advocating for psychiatric consoltations 100 percent of the time,” she said.
Since Logan Square lost its mental health clinic in 2012 when Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed six of the 12 city-funded clinics—including one at Fullerton and Milwaukee Avenues that is now East Room—residents who need access to those kinds of services have limited access. The closest clinic is the North River Mental Health Clinic (5801 N. Pulaski Rd.), which is at least a 45-minute commute. And in a community dealing with rapid gentrification, higher rent costs and displacement of brown and black communities, that’s a far commute for someone to make with mental illnesses, notes Pastor Bruce Ray of Kimball Avenue Church (2324 N. Kimball Ave.).
“Who, struggling with mental illness, is going to take three bus routes to get services?” Ray said. “It’s not local; it’s not within the community.”
Pastor Ray is a big supporter of the proposed mental health clinic because it’s an opportunity to bring back a mental health clinic to the area, tailor its needs to the people of the community and show that mental wellness is just like any other type of healthcare. In May of this year, the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance gathered on the square to show support of the mental clinic; his church was a big part of that Palm Sunday event.
He said there are clinics doing good work but knows that the need is greater than what they can offer. Even in his congregation, there are people he said would benefit from more services that used to come to him for counseling. But he is not a mental health professional, he said.
“Finding places to refer people to is really difficult, and if you don’t have insurance, documentation and speak a language other than English, it becomes really problematic,” Ray said.
Supporting the mental health clinic initiative relays compassion and empowerment for people, Ray said, and putting people first is what it means to care for one another.
“Having a mental health clinic in our community is really important because it will give me as a pastor a place that I can get support or that can support members of my congregation.”Pastor Bruce Ray
The Coalition’s efforts have shown that mental health is a community issue and not an exclusive right; the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance (made up of five local churches including Ray’s) stand with the Coalition and so does Trevor Grant, First Ward Alderman candidate. In a blog post to his site, he shared the impact a local shelter like this would have on children seeking counseling to veterans. Grant served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan from 2008-2009 as a combat medic.
“As a veteran, I’m strongly in support of this center getting built. Approximately 20 veterans per day commit suicide nationwide. When I returned from Afghanistan I would drive 45 minutes once every three months just to ‘keep an eye’ on my PTSD symptoms for three years,” Grant wrote. “I work on math and other problems to self-medicate symptoms, that works for me but not everyone. I know countless veterans who struggle with PTSD. Easy access to mental health can literally be the difference between a suicide attempt and seeking help.”
‘It’s OK Not to Be OK’: Stripping Away the Mental Health Stigma
These voices show the commitment of each community to mental
Chance is just one of several artists/activists in the public spotlight using their money and notoriety to progress a cause. Locally, Sip of Hope has already opened up the dialogue for mental health awareness—”it’s OK to not be OK”— and the Robin Williams mural, painted by Jerkface and Owen Dippie for Mental Health Awareness Week (the first week of October), had a similar, profound impact and was the talk of the town at the beginning of the month, leaving a mark on Logan Square.
Easy access to mental health can literally be the difference between a suicide attempt and seeking help.Trevor Grant, First Ward Alderman Candidate
Residents like Tress and Ray are optimistic about the new clinic potentially opening up and see this step as an autonomous move to have more control over finances and services for the widespread need.
“I don’t think opening one mental health center in our area is going to solve all this but I think it’s about hopefully creating a snowball effect of changing the culture and having people seek help,” Tress said.
Featured image: The Coalition delivered resident signatures to the Board of Elections Aug. 3 to get the referendum on the ballot. Photo Courtesy the Coalition.