About the Coalition

History of the Coalition

1991:The Coalition is Born

In 1991, the City of Chicago's renowned system of 19 community mental health centers was facing imminent closure. A group of mental health professionals, mental health consumers, and local residents vowed to fight the closures and created the Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers to organize residents, consumers, and professionals in support of mental health services. For the next thirteen years, and up to the current day, the Coalition remained on the front line of the fight to maintain services and prevent closures and budget cuts. The Coalition worked in communities throughout Chicago to unite residents, empower mental health consumers, and ensure that anyone struggling with a mental illness was able to get the help they needed

2004: Rethinking Community Mental Health

By 2004, Chicago's once robust community mental health system was floundering. Over a decade of budget cuts, center closures, and privatization resulted in a fragmented mental health system where those in need were left unserved. Seven of the nineteen City-run mental health centers and the nationally-recognized inpatient Substance Abuse Treatment Center were closed. Staff at the North River Mental Health Center- called a jewel in the City's system- had been reduced from a total of fourteen to six with new cuts being proposed each year.

"The mental health system in our City was being dismantled piece by piece and no one would take responsibility for it. It was clear that the once bright flame of community mental health was allowed to burn out." stated Coalition Board Member, Diana Bryant

Outreach services to seniors and children, couples counseling, substance abuse treatment, crisis intervention, and treatment for victims of abuse were among the services that had been eliminated. It became clear that a new plan was necessary. The Coalition set out to reinvent community mental health for the 21st century. The idea was simple- to place communities back at the forefront of mental health by allowing them to initiate, fund, and oversee their own mental health services. The only question was: Would the voters support it?

2004-08: The Community Speaks

The Coalition took its case directly to voters and worked with residents and leaders in the North River community to place an advisory referendum on the ballot in 2004 and again in 2008. Residents, faith leaders, professionals, and consumers worked tirelessly to gather signatures and educate their neighbors on the need for services and how the new "North River Expanded Mental Health Services Program" would work. The results were that the voters approved both referendums, in 2004 with 58% and in 2008 with 72%! The voters had spoken in no uncertain terms that they wanted more mental health services and were willing to dip into their own pockets to pay for them.

2010-11: The Community Expanded Mental Health Services Act [405 ILCS 22/]

With the support of the voters in hand, the Coalition worked with a bipartisan group of state legislators to draft the Community Expanded Mental Health Services Act. The Act gives any community in Chicago the authority to create an Expanded Mental Health Services Program that is initiated, funded, and approved by the community. With this Act in place, any community would have the tools necessary to address local mental health needs. After being introduced in the Illinois General Assembly in 2010 by lead sponsors Representative Sara Feigenholtz, Representative Patti Bellock, and Senator Ira Silverstein, the Act was passed by a broad group of bipartisan supporters in both the House and Senate. On March 11, 2011 Governor Pat Quinn signed the bill into law.

2012: The North River Expanded Mental Health Services Program Is Approved

In 2012, with the bill signed into law, the North River community needed to vote one last time on a legally binding referendum to create the program. Once again local residents accepted the challenge and went door-to-door throughout the community gathering signatures from neighbors, family, and friends to place the referendum question on the ballot.
Residents then embarked on a community-wide education campaign to educate their neighbors on the merits of the program and the need for expanded mental health services in the community. Throughout the North River community, residents knocked on their neighbors' doors and manned tables at their local farmers markets, faith leaders spoke before their congregations, local high school students distributed educational materials, and consumers talked about the impact mental health services had on their lives. On November 6, 2012, the people weighed in with 72% of voters supporting the referendum: the North River Expanded Mental Health Services Program was born.

2013-14: Implementing the Program

With the referendum passed and the program approved, Governor Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in accordance with the Community Expanded Mental Health Services Act, appointed community nominated members to the Governing Commission of the program. This 9-member Commission is charged with overseeing the taxpayers' funds and ensuring the provision of the new mental health services for the program. By law, this Commission holds open community meetings and is required to use at least 85% of the taxpayer funds for direct mental health services.

The Commission held its inaugural meeting on June 19, 2013 and since that time has worked to implement the wishes of the voters by levying the approved property taxes, securing a service provider to provide the new mental health services, and meeting the legal requirements of the Community Expanded Mental Health Services Act to ensure that taxpayer funds are used effectively and transparently.