Mayor Brandon Johnson campaigned on a promise to reopen Chicago’s shuttered mental health clinics and dramatically expand an alternative response program that frees Chicago police officers from a responsibility to respond to mental health emergencies.
On Monday, a City Council committee held a subject matter hearing “years in the making” aimed at building the case for a new network of mental health care under an approach that has come to be known as “Treatment Not Trauma.”
Health Committee Chair Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) opened the hearing with a full minute of silence for “all the people who have been killed or harmed by police in our city during a mental health emergency because we did not have the structures in place to help them.”
The hearing, she said, was “in the name of Quintonio LeGrier, Bettie Jones, Irene Chavez, Laquan McDonald and so many others who did not receive the care they desperately needed. This work is for them, their loved ones and to ensure this never happens again.”
Speakers included psychoanalyst Dr. Eric Reinhart, an anthropologist of policing, prisons and public health. Reinhart is among those being pushed by community advocates as a possible replacement for Dr. Allison Arwady.
He’s spent the last 10 years doing what he called “ethno-graphic research” of people “living with serious mental health illness” on Chicago’s South and West sides, which were hardest hit by the loss of mental health services.
Reinhart isn’t just urging Johnson and his Council allies to re-open the six mental health clinics famously shuttered by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. What post-pandemic Chicago really needs, Reinhart said, is to reopen the 19 mental health clinics it had during the 1980s under former Mayor Harold Washington.
That’s only one element of Reinhart’s comprehensive plan for building a “community mental health system.”
The plan also includes creating an alternate response system that relieves police officers of responsibility for handling the mental health emergency calls they dread, investing in community care by raising the pay of mental health professionals and dramatically increasing funding for Chicago Department of Public Health that has “shrunk dramatically” over the last 40 years and now depends on federal grants to bankroll “90 percent” of its programs.
“‘Treatment Not Trauma’ is not simply about mobile, non-police crisis response but is necessarily part of an inter-woven system for building a real public community mental health system in Chicago. Something the city has never had and that, frankly, no American city has ever had,” Reinhart said.
“What we have now is a woefully inadequate community mental health infrastructure. … We have 40,000 calls with a mental health component going to CPD in 2019 that they do not want to respond to, that they are not well-suited to respond to. That results in unnecessary police contact, unnecessary violence, unnecessary arrests, unnecessary incarceration in a country with an incarceration rate that is seven times that of peer nations and has no better public safety.”
Like Johnson, Lori Lightfoot, as a candidate, had promised to re-open the six mental health clinics Emanuel shut down — but she kept them closed after becoming mayor.
The Council initially delayed confirmation of Arwady’s appointment because she did not support reopening those shuttered clinics.
Matt Richards, deputy commissioner of behavioral health, represented Arwady at Monday’s hearing. He made it clear that the commissioner who led Chicago through the pandemic, and wants desperately stay on under Johnson, is prepared to do an about-face.
“We commit very sincerely to be a partner with this mayor, with the chairwoman, with the folks in this room … to get ‘Treatment Not Trauma’ done. … We’re gonna be a productive partner to help make it happen,” Richards said.
Rookie Ald. Desmon Yancy (5th) said he supports an ordinance laying out the ‘Treatment Not Trauma’ approach because “too often, people in crisis — especially people of color — find that the system we have in place is more likely to fail them than to help.”
In December 2009, the issue turned personal for Yancy.
A friend — a Navy veteran and union organizer — was “suffering through a mental health crisis.” His family called 911, the alderperson said.
Moments after police arrived, Yancy said, his friend was “shot and killed in front of his wife and son on Christmas Eve.”
“As a person with family members who have struggled with mental health issues — and I, myself, have dealt with depression — I pray that, in a moment of crisis, that they and we don’t meet the same fate as these beautiful souls,” Yancy said, referring to his friend and others.
“They deserve better. We can do better. And we’ll do better with the passage of this ordinance.”