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Police Shut Down Another Protest At Mental Health Clinic

UPDATED 04/17/12 9:13 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The fight is escalating to save a mental health clinic in the Woodlawn neighborhood, as protesters camp outside in the second high-profile demonstration in a week.

As CBS 2's Mike Puccinelli reports, the Woodlawn Adult Health Center, 6337 S. Woodlawn Ave., is set to close at the end of the month along with three other similar facilities as part of a plan by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to consolidate the city's 12 mental health clinics into six. Two of the clinics have already closed.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Mike Krauser reports


The plan would save some $3 million, according to the city.

At the Woodlawn clinic, protesters say at least 20 police vehicles showed up just after midnight Tuesday morning and gave the protesters one hour to remove the tent city they had set up.

There were fewer than a dozen tents in an empty lot front of the clinic.

But Sophia Kortchmar of the Mental Health Movement says when police came, the demonstrators called in reinforcements and the crowd swelled. Police took their tents after a two-hour standoff.

"The city is clearly using its resources well to take away our tents, but we're not going anywhere. We have folks who are really fighting for their lives. These clinics are about people's lives," she said.

The activists argue that the plan to close the clinics is tantamount to balancing the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable.

Members of the Mental Health Movement say they will not stop demonstrating until the mayor reverses his consolidation plan. They say closing the clinic will end up costing society more in the long run.

"The city has made certain that people who need the services are cut off," said protester N'Dana Carter. "People who pay taxes to have these services available will be denied."

Toussaint Losier of the Mental Health Movement said the consequences for clients would be dire if the clinics close.

"If these centers close… people who go to these centers describe it as being like a death sentence. So many people rely on their therapists, and closing centers means laying off a number of therapists, caseworkers, and people who get disconnected from the lifesaving treatment that they give."

He adds that the $3 million in savings will not be realized when the fallout of closing the clinics is taken into account.

"It's actually going to end up costing the city, the county, the folks here more money to close these clinics, because folks who rely on these services are going to end up slipping through the cracks," Losier said.

Kortchmar also said the consequences of closing public mental health clinics could be devastating.

"There is a question about what kind of city we're building and what kind world we're building, and a world in which there are no public mental health services is a world where there's more violence. It's a world where people have fewer resources. It's a world where people are given less opportunities to make meaningful changes in their lives."

Last week, 23 people were arrested outside the clinic, after they barricaded themselves in front of the doors using steel gates, piping and quick-dry cement.

Police used a chainsaw to cut through the barricades and hauled the demonstrators away this past Friday morning.

This time, no arrests were reported, although protesters were not happy that police confiscated a couple of their tents.

Protesters say they will now camp out on the sidewalks, where they say police cannot make them leave. They will sleep in their cars.

They have also talked about taking the protest all the way to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's house in the Ravenswood neighborhood.

They also plan to hold a news conference at 2 p.m.

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