West Side community mental health center opens doors with help of CCHD funding

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, October 23, 2019

After four years of work by local residents and Archdiocese of Chicago parishes, the Encompassing Center, a new public mental health center that will serve the Near West Side, East and West Garfield Park and North Lawndale communities, celebrated its opening on Oct. 15, 2019. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the national, anti-poverty, social justice program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, provided critical funding for the center. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Residents of several West Side communities will have a new place to turn for mental health services thanks to a years-long community effort that drew support from several local parishes and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

The Encompassing Center, 3019 W. Harrison St., held its grand opening Oct. 15. It will offer substance abuse and mental health services to the residents of the near West Side, East and West Garfield Park and North Lawndale. It was created through the efforts of the Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers, which first approached Father Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha Parish, in 2015.

Parishioners at Precious Blood + St. Malachy and Old St. Patrick’s parishes also have been involved in the effort. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has awarded the Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers $120,000 in local and national grants over the past four years.

CCHD is the domestic anti-poverty effort of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is funded by an annual second collection, this year Nov. 23-24, with half the proceeds staying in the dioceses in which they are collected.

Last year, just under $600,000 was collected in the Archdiocese of Chicago, according to CCHD program coordinator Elizabeth Young. Half went to the national CCHD program, and the rest went to pay for local administration, justice education and $235,000 in local grants to 13 organizations.

Fourteen groups based in the archdiocese, including the Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers, received national grants totaling $635,000.

Support for the Encompassing Center was also provided by the Chicago Community Trust, the Albert Pick, Jr. Fund and Crossroads Fund.

Local residents supported the clinic through an addition to their property taxes. Community members collected more than 10,000 signatures — four times the required number — to get a referendum on the November 2016 ballot, asking if residents of the four neighborhoods would be willing to pay another $4 for every $1,000 they pay in property taxes to support a community mental health center. The referendum passed with more than 86 percent of the vote.

“It’s been over four years since this all began,” said Janice Oda-Gray, a member of the nine-person commission that will govern the center. “We had challenges along the way, and there were times when we were at our wits’ end. But we knew that faith and fear cannot coexist.”

The commission is made up of community members appointed by the mayor of Chicago and governor of Illinois. It has tapped Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago to be the service provider.

Catholic Charities will provide therapy, substance abuse services and case management by staff who have been trained to work with people affected by trauma. The center expects to open to clients in November.

Jacquelyn Ingram, a member of the St. Agatha Community Action Team who worked on the project, said everyone is affected by a lack of mental health services.

“In 1991, there were 19 public mental health centers in Chicago,” she said. “Today, we’re down to four. And people ask, ‘What about the crime? Why do we have so much crime?’ Human behavior and mental health affect everyone.”

She also credited the Kedzie Center, 4141 N. Kedzie Ave., for helping develop the Encompassing Center. The Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers opened the Kedzie Center five years ago, and its leaders shared their plans and experiences, Ingram said. Now the coalition is working to open a third center in the Avondale-Hermosa neighborhood.

Michael Snedeker, executive director of the coalition, thanked community members for their work to make the Encompassing Center a reality.

“This center exists because the community came together to make it happen,” he said. “We are far more united on issues that are important to us than people think.”

Not everyone was optimistic when the effort started, said Raphael Arteberry of the Institute for Community Empowerment. Arteberry canvassed the neighborhood with young people to get signatures to put the referendum on the ballot.

“Some people would disagree because of the increase in property taxes,” Arteberry said. “Other people thought the West Side couldn’t come together for something like this.”



  • cchd
  • mental health

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