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23 Arrested In Protest To Save Mental Health Clinic

UPDATED 04/13/12 5:00 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- About two dozen people were arrested early Friday during a protest at a mental health clinic in the South Side's Woodlawn neighborhood.

As CBS 2's Susanna Song reports, protesters are trying to save the clinic from budget cuts that will shut it down. Many remained there Friday morning, and they say they won't stop protesting until Mayor Rahm Emanuel changes his mind and agrees to keep the clinic open.

They say even getting arrested won't intimidate them.

Police came to the Woodlawn Adult Health Center, 6337 S. Woodlawn Ave., around 2 a.m. Friday, and started arresting protesters who barricaded themselves inside. Some even locked themselves inside and demanded to talk to the mayor.

In all, 23 people were arrested. Of the 23, 11 were  released because they needed medication. The remainder was released by late afternoon Friday.

Demonstrators chanted and blocked the entrance to the clinic throughout the night. They put up barricades in front of the doors, made from steel gates, piping and quick-dry cement.

Police used a chainsaw to cut through the makeshift barricades.

"Chicago Police officers came with bull cutters, chainsaws and handcuffs to forcibly remove the folks who had said they really had no choice but to put their bodies on the line, and do whatever they could do to keep this clinic open," said Tousannif Losier of the Mental Health Project, which is leading the protest.

Protesters insist on saving the clinic, which is one of four slated to close under city budget cuts. Two have already closed.

"Many of those people who are the most vulnerable people, who have been occupying this clinic tonight in the last stand to try and save what is ours, and have gotten nowhere in City Council; nowhere with our calls to aldermen," said Sophia Kortchna, also of the Mental Health Movement.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan was to consolidate 12 city clinics into six.

The Chicago Department of Public Health says the closings have nothing to do with budget cuts, and everything to do with partnering with community groups. The department says sin spite of the closings, it is expanding access to mental health services and increasing support for the uninsured.

The department claims the city has invested $500,000 so that 1,000 more people can access psychiatric care. The department also says mental health service clients will have access to 60 mental health providers in addition to the six city clinics.

But protesters – including one client who was arrested Friday morning – say closing the Woodlawn clinic is a life-or-death issue.

"It don't make no sense at all," said Linda Hatcher. "I had the best in therapies. I had the best everything. And now you all are taking all of this away from me. Don't nobody know how I feel. I've been in jail all day today, and you know what? I don't care about the jail. I don't care, because you know what is wrong, because I feel it in my heart. You know, I'm going to stand. I'm going to stand. I'm going to fight until the day I die. 'Til I die."

Hatcher says she has been seeing a therapist at the Woodlawn clinic for nearly 40 years. She says changing locations will make it really difficult for her because it is difficult to open up to a new therapist.

The City of Chicago says it has met with the Mental Health Movement more than a dozen times, and would be open to discussing the matter with them again.

Demonstrators are planning another demonstration at the Woodlawn clinic on Saturday afternoon.

The clinic is set to close April 30.

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