Treatment Not Trauma Implementation Begins!

May 31, 2024

Congratulations to 33rd Ward Alderwoman Rossana Rodríguez Sánchez, her staff, and the Collaborative for Community Wellness for helping launch and lead the fight for Treatment Not Trauma!

Photo credit: Zubaer Khan/Sun-Times

Photo credit: Zubaer Khan/Sun-Times

The Treatment Not Trauma (TNT) initiative emerged as a direct response to the tragic murder of George Floyd, which ignited widespread protests across Chicago and the United States in 2020. This period of time spurred intense debate within City Council about the lack of options available for Chicagoans to receive help in the form of treatment for mental health or access to essential resources like affordable housing. It became clear that the Chicago Police Department was stretched beyond its capacity to manage all of the work needed to fulfill a holistic vision of public safety. This deficiency drove Ald. Rodríguez Sánchez to research non-police crisis response systems that existed around the country, including the “Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets” (CAHOOTS) model operating in Oregon.

Drawing on her experiences as both a policymaker and an organizer, Ald. Rodríguez Sánchez reached out to the Collaborative for Community Wellness (CCW) to explore innovative solutions based on the CCW’s long-standing advocacy efforts to reopen shuttered mental health clinics in Chicago. By merging these two critical needs, they envisioned the creation of crisis response systems emanating from these reopened centers that would provide timely care and treatment within our communities.

Photo credit: Veronica Tirado 33rd Ward Staff

Moreover, they understood the importance of addressing workers’ rights within this framework. In collaboration with the labor movement, particularly AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), Ald. Rodríguez Sánchez and the CCW emphasized the necessity of ensuring appropriate compensation and working conditions for those tasked with caring for our city.

The first Council Order related to Treatment Not Trauma was introduced by Ald. Rodríguez Sánchez to City Council in September 2020 as a call to develop a “Chicago Crisis Response and Care System within the CDPH [Chicago Department of Public Health] … to be included in the 2021 budget proposal.” This order was drafted with input from experts and organizers within the CCW. After heavy debate and amendment in the Committee on Health and Human Relations, it ultimately failed to move forward.

During the period of debate around the Council Order, Ald. Rodríguez Sánchez continued to lead efforts in City Council to establish funding resources for TNT. These efforts included numerous ordinances to shift funding into the Chicago Department of Public Health from other city departments, including the Chicago Police Department, as well as seeking additional grant funding—all of which failed to pass.

While the Council Order was stalled, Mayor Lori Lightfoot developed a parallel pilot program. Launched at the end of 2020, the Non-Police Crisis Response Pilot established the Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE) program, which is still active today. This program served as an example of a co-responder model of crisis response, but unfortunately, it continued to center police presence in mental and behavioral health crisis response. 

In 2022, organizers across Chicago, still demanding public mental health clinics and a true non-police crisis response option, worked to put TNT on the November ballot as a referendum question. CCW, DefundCPD, Southside Together Organizing for Power, and 33rd Ward Working Families got the referendum added to the ballot in wards 6, 20, and 33. In each of these wards, the referendum passed with an average of 97% of voters in favor

In early 2023, then-mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson built off of the momentum from the referendum and uplifted the call for TNT as a central point on his campaign platform to distinguish himself from other candidates and rally grassroots volunteers. Upon entering office, Mayor Johnson moved forward with support for an ordinance in September 2023 to establish a working group tasked with proposing solutions for a true non-police crisis response model tied to a system of public clinics that provide treatment and resources. This working group followed the compelling arguments made in the Committee on Health and Human Relations, now chaired by Ald. Rodríguez Sánchez, in a July 2023 subject matter hearing titled “Call for hearing(s) on initiatives for expansion of access to mental health services, including mental health centers and crisis response services.”

Now, as Mayor Brandon Johnson begins the process of implementing TNT by reopening the Roseland Clinic on the Far South Side, with plans to add mental health services in Pilsen and Garfield Park, we are thrilled to see years of struggle resulting in concrete change!

On May 30, Ald. Rodríguez Sánchez spoke at a press conference at the Roseland Clinic:

I stand here today proud and moved to see our vision of Treatment Not Trauma grow into a thoughtful and detailed plan to deliver public, lifesaving health care to communities across Chicago. I continue to be inspired by the hard work, courage, and leadership of community organizers and advocates for helping us all imagine a world where we can truly care for everyone. I am grateful to Mayor Brandon Johnson’s leadership and commitment to investing in Chicago’s public mental health centers and to developing a non-police, restorative, first-responder network focused on both prevention and treatment. It has long been time for our city to meaningfully invest in public programs that provide supportive structures of care for our communities.  

Treatment Not Trauma, at its core, is about creating sustainable public infrastructures of care to connect people in need to appropriate treatment and resources. The campaign leads with a vision for an integrated prevention and treatment-focused ecosystem of city-run mental health centers across Chicago’s neighborhoods that includes a non-police and peer-supported mental and behavioral health first-responder system. Over the years, the campaign for Treatment Not Trauma has learned from programs across the country to inform our approach here locally, considering all of the specific challenges and opportunities we have in Chicago. 

The following report was written in collaboration with organizers, community partners, people with lived experience either working in or receiving care from Chicago’s mental health centers, city departments and staff, and so many community members, to make sure our plan to accomplish the vision of Treatment Not Trauma leaves nobody behind. I am grateful to continue to work alongside organizations like the Community Mental Health Board, the Collaborative for Community Wellness, and so many others who do the hard work of connecting our neighbors to the resources available in our Department of Public Health. Thank you for keeping our work transparent and accountable to the public.

As we delve into the findings of this report, I invite you to consider not only the progress made but also the work that lies ahead. Our city stands at a critical juncture, presenting us with an opportunity to build a robust system of mental health care. Your engagement and support are crucial as we strive to build healthier, safer, and more compassionate communities for all.