The NFL’s social justice arm will help Chicago expand its mental health resources in 2023 thanks to the Inspire Change social justice initiative. The initiative announced that the Chicago Crisis Support Response and Engagement Team will receive a $200,000 grant from the organization.
The city’s CARE pilot program launched last fall in an effort to approach mental illness through less of a punitive lens and more of a medical one, according to licensed clinical social worker Matthew Richards, CARE’s deputy commissioner for behavioral health. These efforts integrate mental health professionals into the 911 response system to help those experiencing a behavioral health emergency, meaning police and social workers work together to connect people to treatment. When the CARE team responds to an individual in crisis, they offer de-escalation, mental health assessment, referral to community services, and transportation to community destinations as needed. The CARE team follows up with individuals in crisis one day, one week, and one month after meeting.
The program just completed its first year, responding to nearly 500 calls to 911 that had a mental health or substance use component, but no arrests. Richards is looking to use NFL funds to expand CARE services on the city’s West Side and other parts of the city, as well as add a second shift to existing teams that cover the 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. hours, when call volume is highest.
“In the first year, we demonstrated that you can safely treat 911 calls with a mental health component and connect people to community mental health resources,” Richards said. “We integrated mental health professionals into our 911 call center on one shift a day; we have three different care teams that respond to 911 calls. One on the north side, one on the south side, one on the southwest side, totaling 10 communal areas. The support of the NFL will really allow us to support the expansion effort. We are grateful to the NFL’s social justice team for supporting the second year of implementation and helping to scale this program to new communities in Chicago.”
The NFL’s social justice arm has been offering grants to nonprofits for the past five years, said Claire Graf, the NFL’s vice president of corporate social responsibility. CARE is the second Chicago-based nonprofit to receive NFL social justice funding, behind Metropolitan Family Services’ Peace Academy, a grantee in previous years.
The Inspire Change initiative supports community organizations that focus their work on one of four pillars: education, economic progress, police-community relations, and criminal justice reform. Graff said all of Inspire Change’s grantmaking partners fit into at least one of those categories, if not more. He said police-community relations was an area the NFL really wanted to build this grant cycle. A 10-member Owner/Player Panel makes final grantee decisions through an invitation-only application process. The 2022 grant winners are: CARE, Atlanta Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative (PAD), Choose 180, Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services Community Assistance and Life Liaison Program (CALL), and Peace for DC.
“One thing I’m proud of with these grants is that they’re not limited to just NFL markets,” Graf said. “We really want to put dollars where help is needed. So you have the hyper-local Alabama Appleseed on one side and the big national Big Brothers Big Sisters on the other, they really run the gamut.”
What spoke to Graff and his social responsibility team about CARE? Unlike many different co-author models, CARE uses real-time data to assess what is needed based on the nature of the 911 call. Data are evaluated by the University of Chicago Health Laboratory. Graff said CARE’s data transparency, which is still a work in progress, made CARE a standout candidate. “Being able to know that the work is transparent and that we can see the data and that well-established, respected universities are looking at it has been really helpful,” he said.
“We really want to double our hours, expand to the West Side to East and West Garfield Park and Humboldt Park,” he said, as well as several other community spaces around the city. “We selected communities that have a consistently high volume of 911 calls with a behavioral health component. Of course, we also think about equality, geographically, racially and ethnically. We want the full diversity of our city to touch and feel the differences of these teams.”
CARE is looking for more types of calls. In the first year, teams focused on no-weapon calls in which the person was not physically or verbally aggressive, and calls involving a mental health disorder in a public setting instead of a private residence. In the second year, Richards wants to start calling for suicide threats or calls in which the presence of a weapon may not be known, or where the person may be making verbal threats or violating public disorder laws.
“Right now, we’ll sometimes go to those calls if other response teams like police or paramedic teams ask for our help, but 911 doesn’t send us directly,” he said. “We’re looking at a whole range of other calls that we think these teams will really add value to. We need to get permission from the Illinois Department of Public Health EMS Division to expand the types of calls we want to go to. It’s about expanding the number of communities we’re in so our residents can begin to touch and feel the difference these teams can make in their community.”
The expansion will coincide with the expansion of the Chicago Department of Public Health’s Citywide Mental Health Network, city-funded outpatient mental health services provided through the city’s network of Trauma Informed Care Centers (TICC), which includes community mental health centers, federally qualified health care. centers, community-based organizations (CBOs) and CPD mental health centers.
“Over the next month or so, we will be funding a mental health clinic in every community area in the city of Chicago, in all 77 community areas,” Richards said. “This year we are going to serve about 60,000 residents. The fact that we fund all of these clinics through the health department allows our care teams to rely on our partners and the clinics that we operate directly within the health department as resource referrals, as places where we can transfer patients, as places we can plan to follow. – before appointment. Another important thing we’re doing is we’re starting to fund different kinds of alternative destinations, places where we can take a patient instead of going to an emergency room or a police block.”
He said the city is considering a stabilization housing program where a hotel would be purchased and individuals with homelessness, mental health and substance use issues could be diverted to their own unit, allowing them to receive primary care treatment for up to six people. months before they transition to permanent supportive housing. A sobering up center is another diversion option where acutely intoxicated people can be taken to a place where they can get sober and doctors can engage them about their substance use and try to connect them to alcohol use disorder treatment services. Richards says CARE hopes to open both options in 2023.
“Because our work in this space is relatively new, we want to fund what works on the one hand, and on the other hand, we absolutely value ingenuity,” Graf said. “We would like to fund where we can. So we try to be nimble. We try to make room each year to bring in new grantees and others who have had a relationship with us for several years because we want to consider things like geography, how many people the organization serves; the things that the giver would seek, we also seek. One of the beautiful parts of the system is that we want to get those grassroots organizations in the door, even if they’re not a long-standing organization.”
Since 2017, the NFL has awarded more than $244 million to more than 40 grant partners and more than 600 grassroots organizations across the country, moving closer to its 10-year $250 million commitment to social justice efforts. This includes more than 1,800 Inspire Change matching grants awarded by the NFL Foundation to current NFL players for nonprofits of their choice to help reduce barriers to opportunity.
“We’re especially pleased that the (NFL) social justice group funded us because we see what we’re doing as advancing social justice in public health and safety in an effort to improve the confidence level of our residents.” have first responders who often respond to the most difficult moments of their lives,” Richards said.