BRAINSTORMING: West Siders focused on reducing the population of Cook County Jail during a meeting at the Westside Community Triage and Wellness Center last week. | Courtesy Austin Talks

It’s easy to miss the building in the 4100 block of West Madison Street. Tucked among other storefront businesses, the Westside Community Triage and Wellness Center, located at 4133 W. Madison, could be mistaken for just another business or social service provider.

But what’s unique about the center, which began operations last year, is that it’s open to anyone needing help 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Police officers and firefighters can drop off those at risk for homicide or suicide. Someone can stay at the center for up to 23 hours and get a diagnostic workup. There’s an exam room, a place to relax.

Last week, it was a gathering place for more than 30 people wanting to talk about how to provide everyday basic needs, create community connections, ensure self-care, deal with trauma, and make sure the faith community is involved in improving mental health.

A main focus of last week’s conversation – and of the triage and wellness center itself – is reducing the population of the Cook County Jail. “We want to get (people) treatment rather than locking folks up,” said Leticia Reyes-Nash, who works for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

“How do we build systems that help and engage the community?” Reyes-Nash said.

Those gathered last week had a lot of ideas. At the faith and mental health table, there was discussion about how to get West Side churches more involved in the center.

One person suggested churches hold a mental health day when representatives from the triage and wellness center could visit and share information. The information could also be shared in church bulletins.

A Chicago police officer suggested there be more “positive loitering” and outreach, building on the 100 blocks 100 churches initiative held every Wednesday night during the summer months.

At the community connections table, Milton Johnson, who works at the Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center, talked about identifying key leaders in a neighborhood – “pied pipers” – who could help spread the word and get people into the triage and wellness center. Holding collaborative events with a number of community groups also was suggested.

“We can’t do this alone,” Johnson said. “We need to get the word out, to let people know about our programs.”

The trauma group talked about the need to talk about racism. “We have to have a real serious conversation about it,” one participant said.

Another participant, Daryl Satcher, pointed to the disparate way violence is handled in one community versus another. There were grief counselors and other services provided at Oak Park River Forest High School when a student was killed, but that’s not what happens at West Side high schools, he said. He finds the way violence is portrayed in the media upsetting.

“I can’t watch it anymore,” he said. “We have to find a way to heal ourselves.”

Donald Dew, chief executive officer and president of Habilitative Systems Inc., said the self-care group discussed the importance of nutrition, meditation and mindfulness. One suggestion: practice a 30-day mental diet where you think only those thoughts that are necessary, beneficial and worthwhile to your life.