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Chicago Begins Push to Reopen Mental Health Clinics

During a hearing on the signature plank of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s progressive public-safety platform, a proposal to reopen the city’s mental health clinics and expand non-police responses to 911 calls received a symbolic boost, the Chicago Tribune reports. The Health and Human Relations Committee hosted presentations from city officials and advocates from the “Treatment Not Trauma” coalition whose opinions for expanding mental health services without law enforcement were embraced by Johnson as a campaign theme. The resolution is non-binding; an analysis and future vote on its implementation is the movement’s next objective. “That’s the goal of this administration. Treatment Not Trauma is the way in which we truly create a better, stronger, safer Chicago,” Johnson said at a Saturday summit organized by the activist coalition in Woodlawn. “My administration is going to reopen the mental health clinics that are publicly funded and publicly run.”

Progressive leaders and community members have long mobilized against former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to close half of the city’s 12 public mental health clinics in 2012. Johnson’s predecessor, Lori Lightfoot, vowed to reopen those clinics in her 2019 mayoral campaign but dropped the plan after taking office. Lightfoot argued that the public health department had better expanded its reach by funding third-party providers, serving more than 60,000 patients throughout the behavioral health ecosystem in 2022 — a point contested by critics who say nonprofits and other contractors offer less transparency than government clinics. Those who testified Monday included Chicago Department of Public Health Deputy Commissioner Matt Richards, a holdover from Lightfoot who has defended keeping the clinics closed, and Dr. Eric Reinhart, a progressive-minded physician who is a potential candidate to replace Arwady and an outspoken critic of the way public health systems operate. Reinhart spoke of the “devastating consequences” of historic public disinvestment in mental health care. “The consequence of that is that mental health has been criminalized. Poverty has been criminalized for decades in this country,” Reinhart said. “(CDPH) today is one of the most defunded large public health systems in the country. … This should not be an oppositional matter for the police. This is an essential investment in the people of Chicago.”


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