How Kane County will dole out $4 million to address mental health, homelessness needs

A 9-year-old girl witnessed her father stab her grandfather. A 12-year-old boy told counselors he hunts cats and dogs because he enjoys watching them die. A 13-year-old girl was forced into prostitution to feed her uncle's drug addiction.

That's a sampling of the mental health crisis calls handled this week by the Family Service Association for Greater Elgin, according to the association's executive director, Bernie May.

"And it's just Wednesday," May said.

All three of those children will likely sit on a waiting list for six to 10 weeks before they start getting the mental health services they need.

May was the latest local mental health service provider to plead with Kane County officials Wednesday to expedite the process of getting federal American Rescue Plan money into the community. Those requests have been compounding for the last three months.

In response, the county board task force overseeing the $103 million the county will receive agreed on a framework for an initial $4 million in grants.

Mental health providers will receive up to $3 million of that initial grant pool.

Of that, $2 million will go to large, nonprofit organizations, such as the one May leads. Applicants can receive grants of up to $333,333 each. AID, Family Counseling Services, Tri-City Health Partnership, Mutual Ground and the Ecker Center are expected to be the top applicants.

The other $1 million will go to smaller mental health provider organizations.

The providers say they need money to hire and retain staff to address long waiting lists. A one-time cash infusion from the county would allow them to bring on staff and document the benefit of those positions to future donors and grant providers outside the county government.

Michael Isaacson, the county's assistant director for community health, told the committee there is no doubt the pandemic intensified what was already a budding mental health crisis before COVID-19. He reported a doubling of suicides among people 30 and younger and a 20% increase in opioid overdoses over what was already a record the year prior.

"Our Kane County families are really, really struggling," Isaacson said.

The remaining $1 million of the overall $4 million being made available will also address social problems exacerbated by the pandemic.

Homeless shelters will have a $750,000 pool of grant funds they can access. Grants will max out at $300,000. There are three main shelters in Kane County: Hesed House, Lazarus House and PADS of Elgin.

Food pantries will receive the smallest portion of the $4 million - a pool of $250,000. The maximum grant a food pantry can receive is $100,000.

The county's goal is to get that money into the hands of service providers before the end of the year. However, officials have yet to complete a process for accepting applications or a method for vetting them and cutting checks.

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