On April 30, the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic will be one of six mental health centers that shuts its doors. But until then, the clinic has become the epicenter in the fight against government cutbacks in Chicago, say organizers.
A group of protesters with the Mental Health Movement and Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) tried to barricade themselves into the clinic last week to protest its closure, and have set up a tent city across the street that has been in place around the clock since Saturday. The demonstrations led to arrests last Friday.
The group says that closing clinics will keep low-income communities from accessing desperately needed services.
"We see this in general as one of the most clear examples of what is wrong with the agenda of austerity and privatization," said Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle, an organizer with STOP.
Activists hope to convince the mayor to amend the city's budget to keep the clinics slated for closure, and two North Side clinics already shut, open. The protesters met with the Chicago Department of Public Health Monday and "told the city...that we are going to wait for Rahm Emanuel to take his representative out to the site to negotiate with us," said Ginsberg-Jaeckle.
He said that Woodlawn Mental Health Center serves 500 clients.
The Lakeside neighborhood on the South East Side had 39 percent of its population below poverty level, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
Woodlawn is also home to one of the highest youth homicide rates in the city, according to a Chicago Reporter analysis.
Darius Lightfoot, a Woodlawn community member and activist with Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), the youth section of STOP, said that the violence of the neighborhood makes mental health clinics especially important.
"One of my best friends was Damien Turner and he passed in a drive-by shooting in 2010, and I was kind of depressed by it," said Lightfoot.
Turner was 18-years-old when he was killed, and his case has been part of STOP's campaign to highlight the ways in which low-income neighborhoods are under served, which includes the defense of mental health clinics.
The South Side does not have a trauma center, which meant that when Turner was shot, he had to be driven nine miles to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, because the University of Chicago hospital, four blocks away, did not have such a center.
"This closing affects so many people that I know," said Lightfoot. "Kids' friends get shot, and they don't know how to deal with. I know kids who need these centers to stay open."
© Community Renewal Society 2012
Photo credit: Mario Garcia-Baeza