OKLAHOMA CITY — State lawmakers crossed the lawn and entered the Oklahoma Capitol building on a brisk Tuesday morning wearing suits and peacoat jackets.
Among them were thousands of Oklahomans from across the state sporting green hats, t-shirts and spirited proclamation to Oklahoma Legislature to “save our services.”
Advocates for mentally ill, disabled and financially-strained individuals paid lawmakers a visit Tuesday morning as they resumed special session at the State Capitol, working on a solution to the $215 million budget shortfall.
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse warned Oct. 18, at a news conference in front of the agency’s Crisis Center in Oklahoma City, that outpatient mental health and substance abuse programs for 189,000 Oklahoma residents, including some addicted to opioids, would be eliminated or slashed on Nov. 1 because of state budget cuts.
Organizations across Oklahoma that benefit patients with mental health needs have been coping with how to survive in the wake of looming cuts, inspiring Tuesday’s rally.
Carter County Group Homes, an assisted living facility with a focus on helping with daily living activities, joined the host of advocates at the rally.
Director Jessica Richardson, joined by about a dozen people involved with the nonprofit in some capacity, urged lawmakers to
remember the human rights at stake.
“They need to protect our rights as individuals and take into consideration that we are humans,” Richardson said.
Carter County Group Homes is uncertain of its sustainability or foreseeable future if lawmakers do not settle on a solution before mental health budget cuts are implemented. Richardson, fearing that patients will be unable to afford medication or proper treatment because of the cuts, persuaded the group to make the 100-mile trip to the State Capitol.
“Everybody here deserves a voice, no matter what they’re going through,” Richardson said.
Counseling & Recovery Services of Oklahoma of Tulsa joined the fray to confront lawmakers. Community Relations Director Beverly Moore led both clients and staff up and down the halls of the congested building.
The organization annually helps more than 5,000 adults and children in communities throughout northeastern Oklahoma, according to the company’s website. Moore  said that if these cuts to go into effect, all the facility’s outpatient services would be eliminated.
It includes counseling services for a mother and her 16-year-old foster son who were among the group. The woman’s son dials a number in his phone when he has episodes of “screaming and hollering,” and his counselor comes to initiate moments of peace for him to calm down.
“It would affect me because I wouldn’t be able to handle him,” she said. “She’s able to come and bring him down to the house so that he can have a cooling point. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to cope.”
Moore acknowledged that while the proposed Republican plan incorporates the use of emergency rainy day funds and small budget cuts to fill the budget shortfall, she yearns for a more concrete, long term solution to the budget.
She said she sent a letter to State Representative Michael Rogers, who represents Tulsa and Wagoner, incorporating proposals created by Minority Leader of the House Scott Inman. Her suggestions stipulated a $2,000 teacher pay raise, prevention of cuts to mental health services and a reduction of tax burden on low-income workers.
She and fellow advocates said they ultimately hope to see a bipartisan compromise that reaches beyond politics.
“What I’d like to see is for them to fix the budget, and fix the budget where they don’t have to go through this year, after year, after year,” Moore said.