Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley is approaching one year in office. During this time, Crowley has made addressing mental health issues in the county’s Black community a main focus.
He says that mental health in the Black community has been overlooked and is a real public health crisis.
“This is really about making sure that people of color has access to mental health programs. But also making sure that we can do all that we can, having a hands-on deck approach is really eliminating many of the stigmas that is out there as it relates to mental health,” he says.
According to Crowley, the county receives a majority of its calls for mental health help from Black residents, despite only making up around 27% of the population. He says that the oppression and violence that Black people in Milwaukee County face are to blame for the disparity in need for mental health resources.
He says on top of that generational trauma, the COVID-19 pandemic has only added stressors.
“Many African Americans are frontline workers and have to go to work and they are having a toll on them right now, many of them have seen, you know, their income fall because they haven’t been able to go to work and we know that all of that contributes to stressors which leads to having a mental health crisis,” he says.
This issue is close to home for Crowley who says he has lived in a home with family members who have relied on county services to get the resources they need. For him, mental health services are tied to many issues at the county level.
“When we look at our criminal justice system, and we look at our education system and we think about our health care system, a lot of this boils down to the type of services that people have access to as it relates to their mental health,” he says.
Going forward, Crowley is looking at ways to invest more money into mental health services. One option he is advocating for is raising the Milwaukee County sales tax by 1%. He wants this option to go right to voters in a ballot referendum but needs approval from the state Legislature and governor first.
Currently the only options to raise funds are through cutting other programs or raising property taxes, but Crowley says the county needs different streams of income.
“That 1% sales tax is going to give Milwaukee County the ability to invest in our local priorities while also allowing for property tax relief for many individuals,” he says.
Without that additional revenue, he says the county will have to make tough decisions about how to fund all its programs, especially those that target underserved communities.