Meeting with Alderman Waugespack on 10/9/2013

My name is Kathy Powers. I am here today with the Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4) and the Mental Health Justice Group. I am 63 and have lived with bipolar illness since I was 11. I spent years in hospitals in four separate states. I used to receive excellent care at the Northtown/Rogers Park Mental Health Clinic. Due to funding cuts to the city system in 2010, with no warning or referral services, I lost the opportunity to see a psychiatrist. Because of this, I could not get my medicine.

On one occasion, I went to an emergency room to get a prescription that lasted a month. Then I needed hospitalization when my meds ran out. I did well in the hospital when I received meds and services, but after discharge, I could not find a psychiatrist who would accept Medicare or Medicaid. Then the six Chicago clinics closed completely, leaving me med-less and therapy-less.

After my second hospitalization in a month, I began to receive minimal psychiatric services at C4. Through group therapy, I discovered that I was not alone in trying to receive services.

I am now involved with the Mental Health Justice Group at ONE Northside as advocacy is an important part of my recovery. We are a group of people living with mental illness and allies from the community fighting for the rights of people living with mental illness throughout the north side specifically in Uptown, Edgewater, Lakeview, Lincoln Park and Rogers Park. 

Our view on mental illness is that recovery is possible. We believe that people living with mental illness should live in the least restrictive setting possible. We believe people living with mental illness are not dangerous or violent. In fact, studies show that people living with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes, rather than perpetrators. Though we hold these beliefs and have much evidence to support them, the mainstream stigma associated with people living with mental illness can be overwhelming. We want to end this stigma.

One way in which this can happen is through increasing the number of Crisis Intervention Trained (CIT) police officers. CIT is a 40 hour training program for Police Officers to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and de-escalation techniques. We want the CIT program used more, become better known in the community and have mental health providers promote the program.

We see police officers as first responders who define how communities treat people living with mental illness in crisis. We want to increase the number of CIT-trained officers in our communities and throughout the city to improve appropriate placement of persons in crisis, divert persons in crisis to treatment centers rather than prison, and to reduce the stigma for people living with mental illness.

Through our research and meetings with stakeholders, we discovered that there is a waiting list of over 400 officers who want CIT training. A bottleneck effect occurs because there are only 2.5 full staff CIT-training members in the entire Chicago Police Department. We want to get that number increased to 10 full-staff training members so that more officers are trained and in the streets working in our communities.

We seek support from legislators, the police department and mental health provider agencies to accomplish this goal.

I ask for your support in two ways. First, will you send a letter to your local District Commander to push for their support of the CIT Program locally? (Alderman Waugespack agrees.)

Secondly, will you join us in bringing this issue to the monthly Com Stat meeting of the CPD in the next few months to encourage an increase to ten full-time staff members within the CIT training division to end the bottleneck effect?

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About Kathy Powers
Advocacy is my therapy. Chicago, IL

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