Though results are still flowing in from Tuesday’s midterm election, Chicago residents in the 6th, 20th and 33rd Wards voted overwhelmingly in support of Treatment Not Trauma, a ballot referendum that asked voters if the city should reopen closed mental health centers and establish a city-wide crisis response program that dispatches mental health professionals and an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) to handle mental health emergency calls instead of Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers.

As of 1 p.m. on Nov. 9, the Chicago Board of Elections (CBOE) reported that 98% of the 6th Ward residents voted in favor of Treatment Not Trauma. The 6th Ward includes Chatham, Englewood, Park Manor and Greater Grand Crossing neighborhoods. 

While 96% of voters in the 20th Ward said “yes” to the measure and 92% of residents in the 33rd Ward. The 20th Ward encompasses Woodlawn and parts of Washington Park, Englewood and Back of the Yards. And the 33rd Ward including Albany Park, Ravenswood Manor, Irving Park and Avondale neighborhoods. 

In 2012, mayor Rahm Emanuel closed six of the city’s twelve mental health clinics, four of them were located on the South Side

“There should be political will to invest in communities the way we need and know is possible,” Asha Ransby-Sporn wrote in a Collaborative for Community Wellness press release following  the election results on Tuesday night. She is a 20th Ward resident and a community organizer. 

“I’ve personally talked to hundreds of my neighbors on this issue—from healthcare workers, to my own loved ones, to elders and youth—and what we’ve heard is a resounding desire for City investment in mental health, not more policing,” she continued.


Although the Treatment Not Trauma ballot referendum isn’t binding, meaning it will not be enacted as a law, it does demonstrate Chicago voters’ support for free and accessible mental health services in underserved communities. 

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd Ward) first introduced the  “Treatment Not Trauma” ordinance to the city council’s Health and Human Relations committee in 2020. 

As written, the ordinance would establish 24-hour crisis response teams within the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and deploy them citywide. The response teams would be equipped with a clinical social worker, emergency medical professional, or registered nurse. 

If approved by Chicago City Council, the crisis response teams would respond to mental health calls instead of Chicago police officers. According to a WBEZ news report, CPD officers responded to more than 41,000 calls with a “mental health component” in 2019. 

Treatment Not Trauma is modeled after a similar program in Eugene, Oregon called CAHOOTS. It’s been running for over 30 years. According to a separate 2015 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center,“people with severe mental illness are 16 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than people without mental illness.” 

Although the Treatment Not Trauma ordinance has not been moved out of committee or been brought to the Chicago City Council floor, a two-year pilot program called the Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement program (CARE) is already underway. 

CDPH launched CARE in September 2021. The program has two teams based on the North and South sides. These teams respond around the clock to mental-health calls in 13 neighborhoods across Chicago. Each CARE team includes a police officer, a paramedic and mental-health crisis intervention professional. In addition, the team responds to mental health emergency calls.

In Nov. 2021, WBEZ reported that Dr. Alison Arwardy, director of the CDPH, believes that “the city can invest in mental health without reopening the neighborhood clinics.” In 2019, Mayor Lori Lightfoot campaigned on reopening the closed mental health clinics and pledged to spend $25 million to reopen them, according to WTTW

Voters in other wards in Chicago also voted in support of two other ballot questions related to mental health. For example, 85% of West Town and Humboldt Park residents voted to establish mental health programs, and 80% voted to fund mental health service programs. Those ballot questions were also posed to voters in select precincts within the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 20th wards to establish and fund mental health programs in Southeast Chicago; 93% voted to create mental health programs, and 88% voted to support funding them. 

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.