From Christmas Carols calling Rahm Emanuel a Grinch to a proposal that the city pay for mental health care through raising the yacht mooring tax, the Mental Health Movement coalition has spent months energetically fighting the city’s plan to close six of its 12 mental health clinics.
That resistance has escalated. Police arrested 23 protesters at the Woodlawn clinic at 1 a.m., and activists and mental health patients said at a press conference today outside the Woodlawn clinic that there might be more confrontations.
“I went to jail last night, but I don’t care about going to jail – and I don’t care about going back to jail,” said Robin Evans, a 60 year-old patient at the Woodlawn clinic. Here is Evans and footage of today's press conference and accompanying rally:
The Mental Health Movement, a coalition of activists including the Woodlawn-based Southside Together Organizing for Power, or STOP, organized a sit-in yesterday of the Woodlawn clinic, which the Chicago Department Public of Health is scheduled to close April 30.
Police used law enforcement tools like bolt cutters last night to break into the barricaded clinic and clear out dozens of demonstrators. Of the 23 arrested, 11 were released and 12 are in still in jail and expected to be charged with criminal trespassing.
Mental Health Movement members estimate that they were 200 protesters at yesterday’s sit-in. Coalition supporter Touissant Losier organized a rally with about two-dozen participants outside the clinic today.
“We’re not in the business of giving up on this issue,” Losier said, adding that he could not presently say if protesters and patients plan another sit-in at the Woodlawn clinic or other mental health centers.
The Auburn Gresham, Beverly/Morgan Park, and Back of the Yards clinics are also scheduled to close April 30. The Northwest clinic in the Logan Square neighborhood and Northtown/Rogers Park clinic closed last Friday.
Activists and patients are fighting a decidedly uphill battle as the clinic closings were included in a city budget the City Council passed 50-0 last November. Protesters want City Council to revisit the issue with a hearing, a request Losier restated today.
In addition to the Mental Health Movement, AFSCME Local Council 31 – which represents therapists laid off by the clinic closures – also continues to fight city hall on the closings.
AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said in a statement that he supported yesterday’s sit-in, viewing it as a “drastic step taken only after months of having their voices silenced.”
“The City Council refused to hold a hearing and the mayor rejected their requests for a meeting,” Bayer said.
Closing the clinics will save the city about $2.3 million in an annual budget that adds up to $6.3 billion.
The Chicago Department of Public Health has characterized the closings as part of an overall transformation in how the city delivers mental health services. The city is taking contract bids for private companies who can provide “cost effective health services for uninsured and underinsured individual,” and also currently holding advisory board meetings about changing services.
A call and e-mail to the health department was not returned. Dr. Bechara Choucair, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Heath, did say in a statement that the protesters refused last night to meet with him.