April 10, 2009

Mental health clinics granted stay after students help stage City Hall sit-in

Mayor Richard M. Daley announced an 11th-hour halt to the closing of four South Side mental health clinics Tuesday, the day after a City Hall sit-in attended by U of C students. The city announced it would close the clinics, which serve 2,000 patients across the South and West Sides, in January, spurring local organizers into actions.“We saw the neighborhoods were all black and Latino. That set off a red flag,” said Deborah Taylor, a member of Southsiders Together Organizing for Power (STOP), which helped spearhead the campaign to keep the clinics open. STOP and others, including three U of C students, staged a sit-in at Daley’s City Hall offices Monday. Several protesters were admitted to a meeting with Daley’s chief of staff, said Mark Hopwood, a second-year philosophy graduate student and member of the Southside Solidarity Network (SSN), a campus group involved with the protests. “The next day, the mayor went on TV, apparently without telling anyone else, and said they were holding off the closings,” Hopwood said. Hopwood said SSN found it easy to rally students around the issue. “It was something that really struck a chord with a lot of people,” he said. “It’s certainly been one of the best examples of student and community collaboration this year, and one of the most successful.” He said that 20 to 30 students had been involved with advocacy over the course of the campaign, attending pickets, protests, and town hall meetings on the fate of the clinics. The mental health clinics are scattered across the South Side, including one in Woodlawn. A fifth clinic on the Near North Side was originally also scheduled to close, “but that one got pulled out of the fire,” Hopwood said. “That’s one reason it’s made people very angry—in the absence of a better reason, it makes it look like the South Side is being targeted.” Daley’s announcement was only a temporary reprieve, however, and his office has not specified whether the clinics will remain open permanently. “We’re all still on pins and needles,” Taylor said. When STOP checked on the clinics Thursday morning, they found movers still packing boxes, she said. City Hall has since promised to reopen the clinics within two weeks. A Daley spokeswoman said Thursday that the city will use federal funds from the economic stimulus to keep the clinics open until the issues are resolved. “I suspect this will not be the last action on these clinics,” Hopwood said. “Still, when the mayor goes on TV and tells you you’re getting what you asked for, that’s time to celebrate.”