The Director of Health and Human Services Ike Ogbo announced Thursday night that the city’s health focus for the next five years will be on three issues: advancing health equity, mental health and climate resiliency.

City of Evanston Health and Human Services Director Ike Ogbo at another meeting.

“Mental health is a big significant issue in Evanston,” Ogbo said. “It is not unique to Evanston. It’s all over. We need community effort and community collaborations in order for those efforts to come to fruition.”

The 2022 Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs (EPLAN) helped shape the decision to focus on these issues, Ogbo said.

Ogbo and other community leaders spoke during a virtual meeting entitled Evanston North Shore Branch NAACP Presents: State of the City A Black History Community Event. Willie Shaw, who assists with civic engagement for the NAACP, moderated the event.

There were some technical issues with the Zoom link and perhaps that is why only 10 people were on the call to listen to the updates. But the speakers and the information they presented covered a lot of important ground from health to community affordability to schools and safety.

Health and affordability

Both Ogbo and Mayor Daniel Biss praised the city’s guaranteed income program. In December last year, the city began giving $500 to 150 randomly selected, eligible families and individuals.

This first-ever program in Evanston is being evaluated by Northwestern University, which is also a funding partner for the program, Biss said. “We know that affordability is probably the single biggest challenge that our community is facing,” Biss said.

man sits on panel
Mayor Daniel Biss at a meeting late last year. Credit: Gina Castro

Health and Human Services and the city manager’s office work jointly on this program.

“It has been helpful to stabilize people’s income, so to speak, and my hope is that we will have another program like this,” Ogbo said.

The city is also looking into developing city-owned properties into affordable housing, Biss said.

Human Services provides assistance to low- or no-income community members who do not qualify for state or federal assistance programs, Ogbo said. In addition, Human Services also teaches self-sufficiency skills such as financial literacy.

Workforce development also falls under the department’s purview as of early last year. Ogbo says the department hopes to grow this workforce development office this year, but it currently has only two employees.

The Public Health side of the department will be kicking off a community wellness program from 10 a.m to noon April 22 at Evanston Township High School to encourage people to engage in physical activity and nutritious foods.

“It is going to be a 12-week program that will include a number of activities each day or each week that participants can join, and we also are planning to have some incentives in order to draw people to the event,” Ogbo said. “Once the event is finalized, the information will be disseminated through our various communication channels.”

Police and safety

Evanston Police Department Chief of Police Schenita Stewart provided an update on the police’s efforts to enhance community relationships, especially following the murder Jan. 7 of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police.

Evanston Police Chief Schenita Stewart talks with Sol Anderson, president and CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation at the head of the Jan. 16 Walk for Warmth. Credit: Richard Cahan

The police department, the mayor and city manager are discussing establishing a community relations program to address mental health, substance abuse, the unhoused population and gun violence, Stewart said.

Stewart added that the police department wants to work on these issues in partnership with faith-based organizations, nonprofits and the school districts.

“We all have a part on some of the issues that are going on with the community,” Stewart said.

School updates

The superintendents of both school districts gave positive updates.

District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton announced that suspensions in the district are significantly lower than last year, when the entire school district had 125 suspensions, vs. just two so far this year.

District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton
District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton. Credit: ETHS YouTube

This sharp decrease could be the result of adding three school counselors to the district and additional liaisons providing mentorship during school hours, Horton said.

The achievement gap between white and Black students for reading and math has been reduced, Horton said. From September 2022 to this winter, the reading gap went from 8% to 5%, and the math gap from 11% to 5%, Horton said.

“The information that you may hear about reducing standards and learning expectations is a bunch of crap,” Horton said. “I know that’s not a word I should be saying, but it’s legit. I have to just call it out. It’s a strategy that’s been used to attack Black leadership and our marginalized students. The work is in the data, so I wanted to highlight it.”

Campbell in his new office on Jan. 25. Credit: Duncan Agnew

As for District 202, Superintendent Marcus Campbell says safety and mental health are among the district’s highest priorities. ETHS has 32 mental health professionals, not counting interns, Campbell said.

“We are working really hard to be sure that our students have not just the academic supports that they need, but also the mental health supports that they need,” Campbell said.

Some of the districts’ other strategic priorities are social emotional learning, literacy, racial equity and dual enrollment opportunities.

District 202 is collaborating with District 65 to align their efforts on social emotional learning and assist students with mindfulness and empathy. It is also hoping to be selected for a dual enrollment program with Howard University. ETHS is currently working with Oakton Community College to give students access to college credits while still in high school.

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Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

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  1. Can you clarify the quote by Dr Horton regarding a reduction in the achievement gap. This appears to be taken from recent data from the district regarding changes in student growth over one year where both black and white students declined in the per event age of students meeting their growth targets. However this does not mean the achievement gap was reduced. That data was not provided by the district in their equity report that I could find. Can you advise the source of the quote?

  2. Collaboration is the new competition. Great story Gina! 🧡💙

    :Mental health is a big significant issue in Evanston,” Ogbo said. “It is not unique to Evanston. It’s all over. We need community effort and community collaborations in order for those efforts to come to fruition.”