Stimulus money could save mental health centers

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • March 17, 2009 @ 7:00 AM

Nearly $10 million of federal stimulus money is earmarked for substance abuse and mental health services in Chicago, and opponents of a plan to close four city mental health centers hope some of that money can be used to keep the facilities running.

Ald. George Cardenas (D-12) says there is a good chance at least one of the four South Side centers could be saved. But the federal government must first approve the use of those funds.

Cardenas and other aldermen met with representatives from Mayor Richard M. Daley’s office late last week, where they discussed possible uses for the stimulus money.

“They were optimistic,” says Cardenas, who is lobbying to keep the center in Back of the Yards open. “From the vibes I got from the folks at the mayor’s office and as well as the public health department, there was a good possibility we could save that one.”

The possibility of keeping the centers operational was welcome news to Daryl Gumm, chairman of the Community Mental Health Board of Chicago, which has staged protests and town hall meetings in support of the centers. A budget shortfall of $1.2 million in state dollars led to the decision to close the centers.

“We’re basically talking probably two or $3 million. That’s the thing that really gets me is that mental health services in Chicago have run under a very small budget for years,” he says.

Representatives from the Chicago Department of Public Health, which oversees the centers, did not return calls for comment Monday night.

The money is part of the $1 billion Chicago is set to receive from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It makes up a little more than half of $18 million set aside for community services.

A spreadsheet posted on the city’s Web site notes $2.4 million to assist the chronically homeless with substance abuse and mental health problems, as well as finding housing and employment. Another $7.5 million is reserved for the homeless or those on the brink of homelessness to find help for substance abuse and mental health issues.

Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17