Better mental health care, affordable housing, public transportation all priorities for Cook County equity task force

After 10 months of meetings, a multiagency Cook County task force is recommending improvements to mental health programs, public transportation and access to affordable housing — among others — as ways to promote equity in the county’s most impoverished neighborhoods.

“Equity is not just an aspirational goal — we are funding it. We are putting into action our values, and we are committed to working with our community partners to make these efforts inclusive, sustainable, responsive and impactful,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Thursday, accompanied by a host of social service agency representatives, as she unveiled the 2021 Cook County Equity Fund Report.

Preckwinkle’s office allocated an initial $40 million in 2021 to help promote equity and an additional $10 million this year. Future funding is expected to come from Cook County’s reserve fund and the cannabis tax, county officials said.

“It’s not a one-time fund. This is a fund that will be in our budget as long as cannabis is legal. While we’re making money at that, we can commit a portion of that every year,” said Denise Barreto, the county’s director of equity and inclusion.

Preckwinkle said the fund has a “very simple” goal: “We want safe, healthy and thriving communities in all areas of Cook County, not just the ones with the most resources.”

To that end, the task force — which included 89 members from dozens of agencies — is recommending a host of improvements to tackle “historic and continued disinvestment and inequities that have negatively impacted Black, Latino and other marginalized residents.”

Among other things, the task force is recommending the creation of a “behavioral health authority” to coordinate services for patients in suburban Cook County.

“Behavioral health services are often inaccessible, fragmented and disconnected from other social service needs,” the report states.

As a way to help tackle homelessness, the task force recommends creating a “landlord incentive and mitigation fund” that would encourage landlords to rent to a person who might have had a previous eviction.

Proposals also include greater investment in affordable housing and public transportation.

Preckwinkle’s office is now set to “begin exploring the feasibility” of the task force recommendations.

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