March 16, 2015. Evansville Courier & Press.
Maggie Petrig, a 71-year-old mother of five, is worried about access to mental health care in the area.
Her 33-year-old son suffers from mental illness. He’s also been in and out of prison and jail since he became an adult.
Local officials have acknowledged that jails and prisons have become mental health facilities since deinstitutionalization, Petrig said, but that does nothing to help the problem.
“We’re trying to get a mental health court so that the mentally ill don’t have to be incarcerated. They need to be taken to center for help,” she said.
She told her story Monday evening to hundreds of members of area churches packed in the sanctuary of Nazarene Baptist Church for a rally organized by Congregations Acting for Justice and Empowerment.
Every year, the group hones in specific social issues and asks local elected officials to address specific deficiencies in the community.
This year it’s mental health care and access to affordable housing.
Juliana Cheatham, 50, told the crowd her continual struggle to housing in Evansville.
Cheatham is plagued with health issues that have had her in and out of hospitals for years. Every medical issue has set her back and left her starting from scratch time and time again, she said.
Now, she works at a gas station and lives at Ruth’s House with 24 other women.
“There isn’t any (affordable housing) out there,” she said before the event started. “It’s not just me that is dealing with this.”
According to CAJE, there are 10,000 area families who cannot find affordable housing.
Monday’s rally is a precursor to CAJE’s annual Nehemiah Action gathering. During the event, the group asks local official to address its targeted social issues. The event is set for April 20 at Old National Events Plaza.
What specifically the group will ask of local leaders hasn’t been set, yet.
Previous initiatives of Nehemiah Action program have included an expansion of METS bus service along the U.S. 41 North corridor to give workers from the Center City access to jobs and expansion of bus connections to Warrick County to give access to medical care. The group also worked to get an expanded number of convicted drug offenders into Vanderburgh County drug court and treatment programs for early release.
CAJE officials also updated the crowd on last year’s initiative of equipping first responders with an opiate overdose antidote.
While other agencies, like the Warrick County Sheriff’s Office, have equipped responders with the antidote the Evansville Police Department has not, and CAJE officials said Monday they’re not stopping their push for local police to carry what they said is a lifesaving tool.