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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

The Pandemic Created A Mental Health Crisis. A Free Center In Irving Park Offers Help For Those Struggling: ‘There Is A Huge Need’

Anyone who is 18 or older and is struggling emotionally is welcome at Rincon Family Services' free facility — even people who are simply having a bad day and need someone to talk to.

Inside Rincon Family Services' Living Room facility at 3710 N. Kedzie Ave.
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IRVING PARK — A nonprofit focused on providing mental health services and substance use treatment has opened a safe haven for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis.

Rincon Family Services leaders quietly opened the mental health facility in January on the ground-floor of their Irving Park center at 3710 N. Kedzie Ave. to address Chicago’s ballooning mental health needs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts say depression, anxiety and psychological trauma are on the rise across the country due to limited social interaction and fear of contracting the virus. Many are also experiencing grief after losing family members and friends to the virus.

“Mental health crises have been rising for the last year. We just feel like there is a huge need … in the area,” program coordinator Matthew Tassinari said.

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People who come in can use computers and other devices.

Anyone who is 18 or older and is struggling emotionally is welcome at Rincon Family Services’ free facility. The facility is for people experiencing an emotional crisis, but it’s also for people who are simply having a bad day and need someone to talk to, Tassinari said.

Rincon Family Services is using The Living Room model, which is used by other organizations in the city and across the country. Living Room facilities are focused on peer support and are meant to be an alternative to hospital emergency rooms.

The Kedzie Avenue facility has couches, end tables and art on the walls, a TV and a gaming system, as well as an art therapy room, library and meditation room.

The facility is non-clinical, meaning patients aren’t treated there. Those who come in are evaluated by a mental health professional, but the main idea is to enjoy a comfortable space and talk to recovery support specialists. The specialists are people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or another disorder but have reached a level of recovery that allows them to help others.

“You can go in and [play] a game, do some art therapy and just relax,” said Raul Tinoco, director of communications and marketing at Rincon Family Services. “The idea is that this is an entrance to other services and mental health treatment.”

The organization is following public health guidelines and only allowing up to five guests in the space at any given time. Masks are required.

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The meditation room.

Rincon Family Services has provided mental health services and substance use treatment to Chicagoans for decades. The organization was founded in Humboldt Park in 1972 to serve the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican community.

Today, the organization has centers in West Humboldt Park, Avondale, Belmont Cragin and Irving Park and continues to mostly serve Latino people.

Across all of its programs and centers, including the Living Room facility, the organization aims to break down the mental health stigma in the Latino community, Tassinari said.

“This program offers a non-judgmental, no-ID-required, no-fee safe place where they can come and seek services and support for mental health challenges without it being called a mental health evaluation or seeing a psychiatrist,” Tassinari said.

Before becoming program coordinator at the Living Room facility, Tassinari was a substance use counselor at the organization’s methadone clinic. Tassinari said many of his patients had undiagnosed mental health issues or trauma that prevented them from getting clean.

“They were always telling me, ‘Matthew, we don’t have a safe place to hang out. I’m in the street and there’s people around trying to sell me drugs. What can I do?’ Or they’re having stress at their job. Well, this creates that safe environment, along with the peer-led support,” Tassinari said.

The pandemic has a brought a wave of new challenges. Many people are struggling emotionally and don’t have anywhere to turn. With the Living Room facility, the organization hopes to help people heal and avoid the emergency room, which can be costly and traumatic.

“Right now, the need for mental health is stronger than ever with the pandemic,” Tassinari said.

The Living Room is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday. For more information, visit the organization’s website.

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