By Trisha Young Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Jul 14, 2023 at 4:01 PM

Serving the behavioral health needs of the city’s South Side means being where the need is and, importantly, providing bilingual services.

That’s a premise of Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers’ Behavioral Health Services at 1635 W. National Ave. It has been at it for about two years. 

The clinic offers a broad array of services, from single, couple and family therapy to psychiatric assessment. 

“We want to make an impact right where people live,” said Dr. Maria Elena Perez, Sixteenth Street’s vice president of behavioral health.  

"An access point"

The clinic on National Avenue is one of four Sixteenth Street’s Milwaukee locations. Another is in Waukesha. The centers now also have a presence in 10 schools, where they are better able to serve the needs of minors.  

“Being an access point on Milwaukee’s South Side has really empowered Sixteenth Street to more quickly respond to patients in need,” Perez said. “And that’s very useful to our minority communities, because a large proportion of those families in that ZIP code are minority populations.”  

To further accessibility to underserved communities, Sixteenth Street partners with the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Department, or BHD.  

“Clinics, like Sixteenth Street, are in locations that are not only convenient, but culturally sensitive,” said Dr. Ken Cole, director of outpatient treatment of Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Services.

Help during times of crisis

Sixteenth Street’s National Avenue location is one of three BHD locations where crisis-oriented services are provided by Milwaukee County.

These services are tailored for under-insured or uninsured people who are experiencing mental health crises and who may be waiting for providers for up to several months, Cole explained.  

“We are fortunate to be placed in reputable and trusted organizations like Sixteenth Street on the South Side and Outreach Community Health Centers Outpatient Clinic on the North Side,” Cole said.

 In establishing the National Avenue clinic, Sixteenth Street saw specific needs.

“We see there are issues with access,” said Perez. “There are barriers with transportation, language barriers, people lacking financial resources and child care needs.”   

Breaking through the barriers

Sixteenth Street has tried to alleviate some of those stresses. Due to the need in the community, 70% of Perez’s team is bilingual.  

In addition, the clinic has seen a growing need for treatment for anxiety and depression among adolescents.  

Perez said much of this shift is due to the pandemic, during which youths did not have “contact with their peers when their social development is paramount during that age.”  

To help, the behavioral health unit at Sixteenth Street has recently started the Self- Esteem Empathy Empowerment Discovery of Self, or SEEDS, a treatment group for at-risk teenage girls in the community. 

The clinic also has the distinction of being one of the first clinics in Milwaukee to have offered the COVID-19 vaccine early.  

“The vaccine was a game changer” in terms of getting people back out to seek help, said Perez.  

“People wanted to come back and see providers and therapists again.”  

For more information  

To schedule an appointment at Sixteenth Street’s National Avenue location, you can call (414) 672-1353

You may also walk in from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, though this will not guarantee that you will be seen immediately. No one, however, is turned away. Needs will be assessed by a professional member of the clinic.