Pastors Fight to Keep Mental Health Center Open

Post a Comment » Written on November 6th, 2009     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (November 6, 2009) – Evangelical Covenant Church pastors on the north side of Chicago and nearby suburbs are participating in an interfaith coalition to save a local mental health center threatened with closure by the city.

The city had planned to close the North River Mental Health Center, but has given it at least a temporary reprieve, although at reduced staffing levels. Less than five people, including only two therapists, serve more than 450 people, says Linda Forbes, a Covenant minister who serves as the Faith Outreach Coordinator for The Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers.

DaleyThe staffing levels are far below what is needed, says Forbes, who still fears the center may be closed. “It’s appalling,” Forbes says. “Where are the families going to go that need care?”

The city has said cuts in state reimbursements have forced it to consider closing the clinic as well as others, but Forbes says Illinois cut funding because it wasn’t fully billed for services.

Coalition members are especially angry because 71 percent of local voters approved a non-binding ordinance in November 2008 that called for the establishment of a Special Service Area (SSA) and a .004 percent property tax increase to expand the center’s services. Only people within the SSA would be taxed, and all of the tax revenue would be used for the center.

“The aldermen didn’t think we would get enough signatures,” Forbes says. Despite the vote, city officials still sought to close the center until protests from the coalition and other area residents staved the decision, says Forbes.

The faith leaders have been active in the coalition, Forbes says, because, “You help the least and the lost. You help the people with no voice.”

ProtestIn July, the local faith leaders drafted a statement of support for the center. Signers included Greg Mesimore, pastor of Edgebrook Covenant Church in Edgebrook, Illinois, and Amanda Olson, pastor of Grace Evangelical Covenant Church in Chicago. Debbie Blue, executive minister of the Department of Compassion, Mercy, and Justice, has added her signature as well.

In July, the coalition conducted an interfaith worship service that included representatives from the Jewish and Muslim traditions. The group also has picketed a local alderman’s office once a week (lower photo).

Coalition members spoke against the closure at city budget meetings. “We don’t want them to just keep it open – we want them to restore the staff,” says Forbes. The top photo shows Forbes pleading the case to Mayor Richard Daley. Click here to see additional photos.

She emphasizes that the additional staffing paid for by the voter-approved tax increase would even fund expanding services. “We would again be able to go back into the schools. We could go help the elderly.”

Working a political solution is difficult, Forbes says, because the area served by the center includes nine aldermanic wards. From 4 to 6 p.m. every Monday, coalition members protest outside the offices of the local alderman whose ward makes up much of the area served by the center and has not committed to keeping it open.

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