Some assembly required, indeed. Some people are looking at this title and wondering, what are you building, Kenyatta? A robot? So, today, I answered the call for the Milwaukee County Mental Health Board. When I had received an earlier invitation from the Mental Health Task Force, I put it away, and probably even deleted the email. I strongly considered myself a grassroots worker who was not concerned with systemic change. But several factors suggest that is not entirely true.
I was part of several quality improvement groups that Milwaukee county had created. Many of us who were peer support specialists said that we were undervalued and often told to perform menial tasks. I remember a woman who worked at the crisis resource center bragged about her expertise as a dishwasher. No amount of dishpan hands will make you a peer support specialist.
One of my big moments was addressing the Grassroots Empowerment Project during one of their Empowerment Days. I remember advocating for higher reimbursements for dentists who care for people who are living on Medicaid. The empty mouths of young people who were on SSI informed my plea. The medications people take may damage their teeth and their behavior, getting into fights, may damage or even destroy their teeth and people simply neglect themselves and their bodies as I discovered before I sought help.
A sustained effort was chairing the City County Supportive Housing Commission which approved several projects. However, there was a contradiction for me. Even while sitting up there with all these highly paid specialists, I was at great risk of being evicted due in large part to my low wages as a peer specialist.
As a system, we need to ensure that Milwaukee County employees and people working for agencies contracted by the county are paid living wages. In the past, use of restraints was a major problem in the mental health complex. It was discussed at the Mental Health Board meeting that I attended. So that is one thing to pay close attention to as we transition from the mental health complex to the smaller community facilities that will replace it. The other thing that advocates should pay attention to is what Milwaukee County does with the money that taxpayers will be saving as the system moves towards more community services. What community services will we be paying for and what is the quality of those services? Forward.