Mary Dixon: Libraries in Chicago offer much more than books. You can see a teacher for homework help, check out a pass to a local museum, or visit the maker lab to use a sewing machine or button maker. And now there’s something else. For the last few weeks, at some local libraries you can see a mental health counselor. WBEZ’s Shannon Heffernan explains.
Shannon Heffernan: Danielle Pertiller is a clinical therapist at the city’s mental health clinics. But once a week she goes to Edgewater Library, where she has a makeshift office on the second floor. It’s a private room with a few chairs and a folding table. I met up with her one a recent afternoon, just a few hours into her shift.
Danielle Pertiller: So today was filled with a lot of different people. I've had three walk in since the time I started at 12 o'clock. So like, someone came in for trauma. Someone came in looking for housing services. Someone came in trying to restart medications, and things like that.
Shannon Heffernan: You're like a real Swiss army knife of a social worker here.
Danielle Pertiller: I hope so.
Shannon Heffernan: It may seem unusual to have something like this at a library, but in some ways libraries are also a natural fit. Libraries are often a place where homeless people and other vulnerable groups congregate, and all kinds of people turn to libraries for resources.
Danielle Pertiller: It minimizes the stigma associated with it. It minimizes like, hey, I'm just going up the street to my normal library that I do every day and there's someone there to help me. So someone at your home is like - where you going? They're like - to the library. You don't have to explain.
Shannon Heffernan: The other benefit of libraries is geography. Dr. Francisco Rodriguez is a director of three of the city's mental health clinics. He says location is essential so people can actually get to their appointments.
Francisco Rodriguez: If it’s closer to you, most likely you're going to invest yourself in the process. So the libraries were chosen based on that, where we don’t have any partnerships and we don’t have any clinics closer to this area.
Shannon Heffernan: This problem of making mental health resources more accessible has been a huge issue in Chicago. It got really heated in 2012 when then Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed half of the city’s 12 mental health clinics. The closures gave birth to a popular and powerful protest movement focused on bringing back those clinics. Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised to reopen the clinics. But then, her health commissioner took a different approach. Dr. Alison Arwady argued that services would be more accessible if the city funneled treatment dollars to already existing nonprofits sprinkled throughout the city rather than reopening the six clinics. But the push to reopen the clinics continues. And Chicago’s next Mayor, Brandon Johnson, has repeatedly promised to do that.
Brandon Johnson: Because it's such a need throughout the city of Chicago, all of our communities are feeling the trauma of not just a 100 year pandemic, but years and years of gross negligence.
Shannon Heffernan: What is not known as of now is if those clinic re-openings Johnson promised will be in addition to the initiatives started under Lightfoot, or in place of them. Johnson did not return a request for comment. But health department officials say that, for now, the library program continues in four locations. On Tuesdays in Edgewater, Thursdays in Beverly and on Fridays at the Mount Greenwood Branch and Blackstone Branch in Kenwood. Clinicians take appointments and walk-ins, and services are open to all Chicago residents regardless of insurance or ability to pay. Visit the city’s website for more information on hours, or how to schedule an appointment. Shannon Heffernan, WBEZ News.
WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.