During a press conference held July 21 at Loretto Hospital, 645 S. Central Ave., Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th), former governor Pat Quinn, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) , state Rep. Camille Y. Lilly (78th) and state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) joined forces to raise awareness about a petition effort that could result in more mental health services for Austin residents. 

The Greater Austin Mental Health Services Program and Governing Commission would be empowered to develop a range of services, such as trauma training for teachers, restorative justice practices and mental health diagnoses. 

In order to pay for the services, each year Cook County would allocate between 0.25 percent and .044 percent of the total taxable value of property in Austin, the congressman’s office said. 

For instance, a .025 percent allocation translates into about $8 a year from a $2,000 property tax bill, $16 a year from a $4,000 bill and $24 a year from a $6,000 bill, Davis representatives said. 

A community organization that is located in Austin, qualifies for tax exempt status and has been registered as a nonprofit with the state for at least five years will be eligible to run the commission’s slate of programs. 

In addition, the organization may recommend up to 10 people to the governor and mayor to serve on the 9-member commission—comprising seven Austin residents and two mental health professionals. 

But before the commission is created, residents must first vote in favor of a public and binding referendum that Davis and others are trying to get placed on the ballot for the Nov. 6, 2018 election. 

The number of signatures they need to retrieve must total 8 percent of the governor’s vote in the last election, or 1,560 signatures in the 28th, 29th and 37th Wards combined. Their target goal, however, is 10 times that —15,600. The petitions are already in circulation and are due by Aug. 6. 

At Saturday’s press conference, Quinn said that the petition effort is the result of legislation that he signed into law in 2012. Both Lilly and Ford voted in favor of the measure. 

“The great things in our society don’t come from the top down, they bubble up from the grassroots,” Quinn said Saturday, echoing a point made by Davis. 

“Nobody has power over the people,” the congressman said. “People can overturn the government, but you’ve got to get a lot of them.” 

Urging community members to sign the petition, Mitts told the roughly 30 people in attendance to “make this personal for our children, for ourselves and for the least of these who can’t do it on their own.” 

A similar ballot measure passed in West Garfield Park in 2016, with residents voting 87 percent in favor of establishing the West Side Expanded Mental Health Services Program.

“The number one thing you can do in Austin, in the black community, anywhere, is to take away the stigma,” said Ford.Petitions must be signed by Austin residents. They’re available at the Office of Congressman Danny K. Davis, 2813-15 W. 5th Ave., among other places. For more info, contact (773) 533-7520. 

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