LOGAN SQUARE — After years of work, Logan Square’s neighborhood-funded mental health center is almost ready to open.
The LoSAH Center of Hope at 3557 W. Armitage Ave., which has been in the works since 2018, is set to open in late January, officials said during a recent tour of the storefront. Construction is underway, with the interior walls getting a fresh coat of gold paint, and floors, doors and appliances are set to be installed next.
LoSAH — short for Logan Square, Avondale and Hermosa — will offer bilingual, affordable mental health services to residents in the three neighborhoods, regardless of insurance. It will be known as the Centro de Esperanza in Spanish.
The center will provide a full range of services, including individual therapy, couples and family therapy, group therapy, psychiatry and case management with a focus on early intervention and prevention, leaders said.
“This center is something that we need, and we don’t really have these type of resources,” said Veronica Perez, the director of operations and a Hermosa resident. “This center is going to alleviate a lot of the gaps that this community has suffered.”
The center will have a community and conference room for events and public meetings, an art therapy and meditation room, an outdoor sensory garden and nine therapy offices, said Angela Sedeño, executive director and CEO of Expanded Mental Health Services of Chicago, the service provider for the center.
Free workshops and community resources like mental health first aid, art therapy classes and more will also be offered to the public in the community room, which will be decorated with art, bright colors and possibly a mural, leaders said.
The facility is being funded through a property tax increase approved in 2018. The tax funds will initially cover 100 percent of the clinic’s expenses, and additional revenue over time will help the center expand and provide more programs, Sedeño said.
“Public clinics were designed for people with severe mental illnesses, but they weren’t designed for the everyday people who have everyday problems,” Sedeño said. “I think that we’ve all learned navigating the mental health system is difficult, so even that is a service that we can provide: just helping people figure out where can you go, how do you pick a therapist, how do you know when your child needs therapy?”
The center’s leaders are hiring clinicians and other staff who are getting training at The Kedzie Center in Irving Park, the city’s first community-funded mental health clinic, which is run by the same provider, Sedeño said.
LoSAH will start out with five therapists and hopes to grow to eight by spring, Sedeño said.
Officials anticipate serving over 400 clients and the people who help them each year once the center is fully staffed and operational, they said. The center also will serve another 2,400 neighbors through community programs. For comparison, the Kedzie Center sees about 350 clients per year, Sedeño said.
‘We’re Looking Forward To Opening The Doors’
The organizing that culminated in LoSAH stretches back to 2012, when then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel shut down half of the 12 city-run mental health clinics. Among those that closed was Logan Square’s clinic, 2354 N. Milwaukee Ave., now home to Easy Does It.
The closing triggered protests and a City Hall hearing. Many neighbors were furious when the facility was replaced with a gourmet mac and cheese restaurant and a 4 a.m. bar, moves that defined the gentrification fight in Logan Square for several years.
Volunteers sprang into action in 2018, gathering thousands of signatures to open a community-funded mental health clinic in Logan Square, Hermosa or Avondale.
Their efforts — guided by the Chicago Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Services — led to a binding referendum on the 2018 municipal ballot asking residents if they’d support a property tax increase to open the clinic.
The referendum won overwhelming support from Northwest Side voters. The .025 percent property tax increase — about $4 for every $1,000 homeowners pay in property taxes — took effect in 2020. A governing board of commissioners was formed to oversee the creation of the center.
The opening is especially significant against the backdrop of rapid gentrification in the area, center leaders said.
Swift redevelopment and displacement is radically changing the character and demographics of Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Hermosa and Avondale, making mental health therapy even more pressing, Perez said.
“This is a community that’s gone through a lot, and there’s a lot of change here,” Perez said. “Change is hard for anyone.”
Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th) cited some of those lingering concerns last month when she refused to lift a liquor ban to allow a taproom to open in the building’s corner lot.
Neighbors and members from the mental health center worried about how the taproom would affect gentrification, and they said it went against the mental health center’s mission to establish a safe haven for residents, including those struggling with alcoholism or substance abuse.
“I believe that maintaining the liquor moratorium here is essential to ensure that we are prioritizing the peace, well-being and safety of those working for and seeking treatment at the neighboring mental health center,” Fuentes wrote in a letter to constituents.
LoSAH will be the first business to open in the 3545-3559 W. Armitage Ave. building, a newly remodeled industrial-style property with six storefronts, said Joe Padorr, of Seneca Real Estate Group, the broker for the property.
The center broke ground in August after searching for the right location for more than a year, its leaders said.
The 5,000-square-foot warehouse was chosen because of its optimal location on the border of Logan Square and Hermosa, street parking and easy access to the Armitage No. 73 bus, commissioners said.
Construction is set to wrap in early January, and a grand opening celebration is in the works, officials said.
Despite challenges in finding the right space amid a pandemic, commissioners that moved away and losing member Sister Diane Collins, who died earlier this year, the board has not stopped its mission, said Milka Ramírez, commissioner and program president.
“In the years that we’ve been together since 2019, we’ve only canceled one meeting because of a lack of a quorum, so that goes to show how committed these commissioners are,” Ramírez said.
Their collaboration model is in line with the center’s community approach to mental wellness, Ramírez said. Leading up to the opening, commissioners gathered community input to guide decisions on the buildout, including the center’s name and the gold walls, Ramírez said.
As LoSAH leaders prepare for its debut, they hope it can become a community space and not simply a mental health clinic, Ramírez said.
“We’re looking forward to opening the doors for our communities, and we really do believe that this is going to be an opportunity for the community to come together, to heal and for more transformation,” she said.
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