Chicago Activists Speak Out Against Public Service Cuts, Offer Alternatives

Progress Illinois –

The concept of a social safety net in Illinois is under attack, according to activists who spoke out at a forum Monday evening regarding threats to public services.

Public schools, health care and other human services in the state are being squeezed by an “austerity agenda,” meaning tax breaks for the rich and wealthy corporations and cuts for everyone else, said Fran Tobin, member of Northside Action for Justice and the Alliance For Community Services.

The “austerity movement” is based on the notion that both the city and state are broke, Tobin said at the forum, held at Teamster City at Ashland Avenue and Jackson Boulevard in Chicago.

“Every time we want to do anything good for people, they say there’s no money,” he said. “They said that about closing human service offices. They said that about closing mental health offices. They say that about just about everything else, and yet there always seems to be money for tax cuts for wealthy corporations.”

Those at the meeting highlighted various ways public services across the state have been threatened, and also suggested alternatives to future cuts.

N’Dana Carter with the Mental Health Movement coalition and Southside Together Organizing for Power blasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city council for approving the shut down of six of the 12 city-run mental health clinics that closed for good in April 2012. Four clinics on the South Side closed, while two closed on the North Side.

As Progress Illinois has reported, city officials said the closings would allow for services to be strengthened, promising that the overall mental health system in Chicago would be enhanced.

But Carter took that argument to task, alleging that the mentally ill are still struggling since the clinics closed. For example, some people who attended the shuttered Auburn-Gresham clinic have been found wandering nearby streets and a McDonald’s parking lot, she explained.

It is crucial that the clinics reopen, Carter said, because mental health often goes hand-in-hand with violence.

“It’s not because the mentally ill are violent, it’s because there are times when violence is put upon the mentally ill,” she explained.

In addition, Leon Stockstill, an Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) employee, said human service offices across the state have closed in recent years, which means more work for caseworkers. Some caseworkers have seen their caseloads jump from about 800 to nearly 3,000, he said.

“You have absolutely no idea who anybody is on your caseload anymore,” he said. “You just don’t have the time and energy.”

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