Jake Schell (Loyola Senior)
On September 20, Mayor Lori Lightfoot released her 2022 budget and Chicago Recovery Plan, stating her intention to invest $202 million in homelessness initiatives and nearly double mental health services with an investment of $86 million.
The announcement comes as Chicago grapples with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 42.4% of all adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depression in 2021, a jump from just 10% in 2019. And in Chicago, 62% of adults surveyed identified mental health as their primary concern for youth in the city.
And these statistics go beyond just mental health. Of those experiencing homelessness, roughly 25% have a pre-existing mental health condition. And of the 51.5 million American adults living with a mental health condition, roughly 50% are affected by substance abuse — linking both homelessness and addiction to mental health.
At a Nov. 16 press conference, Alderwoman Maria Hadden of the 49th Ward was supportive of the city’s commitment to mental health services and homelessness. She sees it as the first of many necessary changes following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alderwoman Hadden is especially interested in Crisis Response Teams, something she says can help combat mental health and opioid addiction across the city. Although the pilot program has not been implemented in Rogers Park, more funding could change that.
Of the Crisis Response Teams, she said, “They’ll be doing non-criminal, non-police crisis response and peer counseling to help people who are struggling with addiction. If we can invest more money in it, we could have teams serving all areas of the city. That’s the direction I think we need to go, even though we’re not there yet.”
Additionally, Alderwoman Hadden has observed a positive trend in combating homelessness since the pandemic, particularly in the implementation of a “housing first” approach. In the past, Alderwoman Hadden says that Chicagoans struggling with addiction had to stop using substances before being offered housing resources. Now, she says that’s changing.
Alderwoman Hadden said, “The first thing we need to do is to get this person secure and in safe, supportive housing. And then we can continue to give them services to help address other challenges they might have in being healthy and self-sufficient.”
At a Nov. 13 meeting with the Department of Family and Support Services (FSS), Alderwoman Hadden pressed FSS to ensure that all Rogers Park residents have shelter before temperatures drop for the winter.
Last winter, the city signed leases with hotels to provide temporary housing to residents during cold weather. This year, the city has identified 20 units of housing around Rogers Park that can be used to combat homelessness. With increased funding, this is a trend that Alderwoman Hadden hopes to see continue.
In combating homelessness, another strategy is the employment of more social workers, who Alderwoman Hadden says can assess needs and provide housing support best suited to each person’s circumstances.
She said, “What are their individual housing needs? What’s their situation? Are they working? Are they not working? We have a lot of folks right now who are employed and trying to maintain jobs, and they have lost their homes. And that’s a unique situation.”
At the press conference, Alderwoman Hadden also emphasized her commitment to the 49th Ward and its residents, whether it be advocating for mental health services, housing support, or other issues.
When asked about her plans after the end of her term in 2023, Alderwoman Hadden was quick to respond: “Reelection. Even with all the positive things I’ve been able to do, and great experiences I’ve had working with neighbors, and the legislation that I’ve been able to pass, there’s more to do.”
Residents interested in getting involved or learning more are encouraged to visit the website of Alderwoman Maria Hadden of the 49th Ward at https://www.49thward.org/.