Residents advocated for funding toward mental health response and a permanent homeless shelter during a public hearing of the 2024 city capital budget at Norman City Council’s Tuesday meeting.
Ten residents spoke to council, most of whom discussed increasing funds for mental health response. Several speakers suggested a community-based response rather than one that requires the police, like mobile crisis units.
Mobile crisis units are unarmed teams that respond locally in the community to de-escalate crisis situations without police involvement. The team typically consists of a licensed clinician and a peer recovery support specialist or case manager.
Cynthia Rogers, an OU economics professor, said policing should be involved in responses to crime, but she fears police involvement in mental health crises will lead to policing homelessness as a crime.
“Where do you take that person in crisis that’s calling 911?” Rogers said. “We don’t have any place to take them beside jail right now, which isn’t a safe place.”
In December 2022, local business owner Shannon Hanchett was found dead in the Cleveland County Detention Center after being arrested for placing false 911 calls and obstructing an officer.
Ward 2 Councilmember Lauren Schueler said the council allocated funding toward mobile crisis units two years ago but stopped progress on it as the national mental health hotline 988 rolled out.
Finance Director Anthony Francisco said the two vans the city allocated funding toward are currently on order, and once they arrive, the city will work to provide them to non-profits or keep them under city control to provide mental health resources.
Another resident suggestion for the 2024 budget was the establishment of a permanent homeless shelter in Norman, enough to house at least 100 people and including showers and kennels for animals. Norman currently has a warming shelter which was given funding to extend operations until June.
Gabriel Bird, a dentist located on Main Street, appeared before the council to request that they remove plans in the budget to install parking meters on six blocks of Main Street, saying the meters would not be helpful for downtown business owners.
Francisco first presented the capital budget to the council during a study session last week. Tuesday’s hearing is the first of two the council will hold prior to adoption.
This story was edited by Alexia Aston, Karoline Leonard and Jazz Wolfe. Nikkie Aisha and Ansley Chambers copy edited this story.
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