Community input needed for confronting mental health

West Side Community Triage and Wellness Center hosting forums to share resources, craft new solutions

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By Bonni McKeown

The West Side Community Triage and Wellness Center center, located at 4133 W. Madison Ave., has been holding a series of forums this month to help mitigate violence and trauma on the West Side. 

Formed as a strategic partnership between Habilitative Systems, Inc., Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Mental Health Center, and the Cook County Health and Hospital System, the center places an emphasis on wellness — not just addressing illness. 

During the recent forums, officials with the center gave residents an overview of the many mental health services that are available on the West Side. 

The center itself accepts walk-ins and call-ins 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A staff headed by Joyce Springfield, a licensed clinical supervisor, helps clients assess their needs and refers them to services that include mental health and substance abuse treatment, and job and housing referrals. Case managers follow up with clients and family members. The triage center can also intervene when people are experiencing crisis at home or on the street, and can dispense psychotropic medications.  

During a forum on April 17, Donald Dew, Habilitative's executive director, said that he wants the triage center "be a family support system for the West Side. In case of domestic disturbance, people can call us instead of calling police."  

Dr. Rashad Saafir, Bobby E. Wright's executive director, told those gathered at the forum that he hopes the center is the place that stops the revolving door to Cook County Jail. 

"Jail is the last place people with mental health and substance abuse issues should be," he said. "They need to be in treatment." 

Rebecca Barboza, of the Safety & Justice Challenge Initiative — a campaign supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that is designed to reduce the country's jail population — said that the initiative has some solutions of its own. 

Those solutions include an automated court reminder text and phone messaging system to remind people of their court dates so they won't be re-arrested and strategies to help police divert people from incarceration, among others. 

Other mental health providers offered information at the April 17 forum. Rush medical system hosts training in mental health first aid and Lurie Children's Hospital is investigating statistics on deaths from drug overdoses. 

Deborah Williams, Habilitative's community outreach coordinator, said that she's accepting anyone's ideas on how the Triage and Wellness Center can help improve mental health on the West Side. 

The forums, organizers said, are all designed to guide action on addressing mental health on the West Side. 

"Whatever comes out of here [during the forums] is what's going to happen," said Milton Johnson, Bobby E. Wright's community outreach director.

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com 

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