As Chicago's Mental Health Movement continues to speak out against the city's decision to close six mental health clinics, those in the city for the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates visited the ongoing protest Thursday morning to express their solidarity with activists.
Ingeborg Breines, co-director of the Nobel Prize-winning International Peace Bureau, and Shan Cretin, chair of the Nobel Prize-winning American Friends Service Committee, stopped by the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic at 63rd Street and Woodlawn Avenue where workers and patients shared their view that six clinics recently closed by the city should be reopened and that mental health care relates to the visitors' human rights work.
"Mayor Rahm Emanuel drew on the support of many Chicago businesses, foundations and educational institutions to present his vision of Chicago as a world-class city to the Nobel laureates," Cretin told The Huffington Post on Thursday. "Yet the decision to close six community mental health centers withdraws much needed support from some of the most vulnerable citizens."
"Chicago is able to raise the funds to sponsor showcase events like the Nobel Laureate Summit or the upcoming NATO meeting," Cretin said. "I urge the mayor to be equally energetic in finding the funds to support the community mental health centers."
In January, when the mayor's cost-cutting 2012 budget went into effect, mental health advocates released a report detailing the "hidden costs" of consolidating Chicago's 12 clinics into six. The Mental Health Movement claimed the closures will transfer at least 1,100 Medicaid patients to the care of private providers, "effectively giving away federal reimbursement for these services.”
After a series of protests before the closures, Mental Health Movement activists barricaded themselves inside the Woodlawn clinic as its shutdown deadline neared, and 23 people were arrested. After police secured the clinic, the protest moved outside, where demonstrators have been camped for 14 days, despite pressure from police to leave.
Gov. Pat Quinn has defended the city's downsizing plans amid criticism. But Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been outspoken in opposing the consolidations, arguing that limited access to mental health care is turning his jail into "the largest mental health provider in the state of Illinois."
During a conference call about state early education cuts on Thursday, Dart raised the mental health issue. "There is something wrong [when] people can just vote and then wash their hands of what they create," he said. "My jail is filled with people with mental health issues that should be getting treatment, but all their programs are getting cut. There has to be a certain level of accountability."
Dr. Bechara Choucair of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said that all displaced patients will continue to have access to quality care, but the Mental Health Movement said the consolidations will prevent some people from seeing their doctors or getting their medications.
The activists for Mental Health Movement expressed hope the Nobel representatives' visit will help bring attention to the cutbacks in mental health services. "We are honored [that they visited] because we do know that this is a worldwide problem -- that mental health is ignored and people are killed all over the country and the world as they struggle and suffer with mental health problems," said N’Dana Carter, a mental health services advocate in Chicago.
Scroll up to see Carter explain the group's mission during the Woodlawn Clinic occupation.