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Mayor Brandon Johnson's mental health plan in Chicago starts small but carries big political implications

Jake Sheridan, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

At roughly 0.1% of the city’s recently passed $16.77 billion budget, the initial cost of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s effort to begin reopening Chicago’s city-run mental health clinics is minuscule.

But the political ramifications are potentially huge.

Johnson rode into office on a progressive wave powered by unions and activists who have long advocated that Chicago should return to having 19 city-run clinics, as it did in the 1980s, instead of just five.

The mayor’s answer in his first budget was far from a full response. While he cautioned supporters that reopening the clinics would take time, his budget called for restoring only two clinics and placing them in yet-to-be-determined locations.

Still, by including $5.2 million to expand mental health services and $15.9 million to double staffing for the city’s team of behavioral health professionals who respond to mental health and substance abuse crises, Johnson is trying to show he isn’t dropping the ball on the issue while preaching patience and signaling a more robust response is yet to come.

Those behind the “Treatment Not Trauma” campaign would have a right to be skeptical. Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel both closed mental-health clinics, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot backed away from a campaign promise to reopen the city-run facilities, arguing instead that funding third-party clinics was a more effective use of resources.

 

Johnson himself in September cautioned that while he is committed to reopening mental health clinics, “how many we can reopen within the first four years — to be perfectly frank with you all — that’s still to be determined.”

“There are real budgetary dynamics that we have to address, and I’m committed to doing that,” he said.

But, so far, the Treatment Not Trauma advocates have applauded Johnson’s moves, while at the same time saying they expect more to be done down the road.

“This is very much a down payment toward getting Chicago to a better place,” said Arturo Carrillo a social worker who directs violence prevention and health initiatives for the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, part of the broad Treatment Not Trauma coalition. “We count it as a win, but not an overall win.”

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