The proposed site of the "living room" at 311 Elmwood Ave. on the St. Francis Hospital campus. (Google Maps image)

Evanston’s City Council Monday night approved spending up to $900,000 from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to establish a mental health “living room” facility adjacent to St. Francis Hospital.

About a quarter of the money would be used to renovate the bungalow at 311 Elmwood Ave. for use as the facility. The rest would fund operation of the program by Turning Point Behavioral Health Services.

Peter Braithwaite.

In light of recent community concerns about Evanston’s efforts to house the homeless possibly attracting troubled individuals from other communities, Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) asked whether Evanston residents would have priority for the program’s services and how client behavior would be managed outside the facility.

Ann Raney.

Turning Point CEO Ann Raney said the organization has not had issues with behavior around its facility in Skokie. “It’s a drop-in center, not a residential facility,” she said.

She added that more Evanston residents than Skokie residents have used the agency’s Skokie living room.

Asked about funding for the program after the ARPA money runs out, Raney said state funding may be available starting next year and that the state already provides funds for the living room in Skokie.

Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski said she believes the living room will provide a major cost saving for area hospitals. They currently end up treating people who would be clients for the living room service in their emergency rooms. Gandurski said she hopes the hospitals will contribute to the program’s funding.

Mayor Daniel Biss added that Cook County government is another potential source of funding for the program.

The 311 Elmwood building is owned by Amita St. Francis and plans are for it to be leased either to the city or Turning Point for operation of the program.

ARPA funding for the living room program has been under discussion since December and using the home adjacent to St. Francis was proposed in January.

Two other agencies — Impact Behavioral Health Partners and Trilogy — are expected to participate in operation of the new facility.

The project is part of a broader effort to respond to mental health issues that have been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those efforts also includes creation of a mental health crisis team to provide an alternative to police response to persons suffering mental health crises.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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