Tammy McKee was lonely.
The struggles of trying to overcome a felony charge in hopes of landing a job had taken a toll, and she was battling mental health issues, including depression. Down on her luck and running out of money and medication, McKee, 52, admitted herself to a hospital.
She first learned about Lottie House once she left the hospital two weeks later.
“I saw a flyer for the Lottie House and started coming here,” McKee said. “I didn’t realize how lonely I was at the time. This place was like a godsend.”
Lottie House is a drop-in center on Oklahoma City’s east side that offers an inviting place for adults dealing with mental illness. The facility is peer-run, which means the leaders of Lottie House have a personal understanding of mental health issues.
McKee said Lottie House offered her a place to hang out and attend classes — her favorite is creative writing — and a chance to interact with others who share similar struggles.
“It’s such a neat place to be,” McKee said. “It’s so comfortable; when you walk in, they welcome you. It’s such a joy to be here.”
Lottie House is not a clinical facility but works to meet the communal needs of those who want or need help managing their mental health.
“For most of us, we don’t isolate. We don’t even think about isolating. We are engaged with our employment, our families, our churches, our faith community, whatever it may be,” said Michael Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association Oklahoma (MHAO), the organization that runs Lottie House. “But people with serious mental illness, they are oftentimes reticent or sensitive about participating and being out in groups of people.”
The MHAO runs a similar facility in Tulsa and brought the concept to Oklahoma City last year after encouraged to do so by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
Shortly after opening Lottie House, the MHAO was approached about becoming a statewide agency, especially since the Mental Health Association of Central Oklahoma had closed its doors last year. The Tulsa-based organization changed its name and expanded to offer its services of advocacy, case management, counseling and other resources statewide. “All they have to do is sign in their name,” Brose said about visitors. “Anybody can drop in here at the drop- in center at Lottie House. You don’t have to identify yourself as having a mental illness.”
Like McKee, Daniel Sherman first learned about Lottie House from a flyer.
“I found out that they were going to have a party here,” Sherman, 57, said. “I just decided to show up.”
Sherman, who has dealt with chronic homelessness over the past few years, started attending a knitting class at Lottie House and has found a passion for making hats and scarves.
“There are blessings everywhere here,” Sherman said. “It’s nice to share your story with others, give them a lift up and encouragement that they can make it.”
It’s not uncommon to find Sherman knitting a hat in the living room at Lottie House, enjoying conversation with others in a setting that is safe and inviting.
“That really is a big aide to recovery,” Brose said about interacting with others. “When people feel like they are a member of the community, that they belong, that’s a big thing in terms of people’s recovery.”
Like many others, McKee has found a community at Lottie House. She recently earned her degree in social work and wants to work for an agency or organization that offers people a chance to recover from their own addictions, illnesses or other challenges.
“I want to give them some encouragement and confidence and build them up,” McKee said. “Just help them keep going forward, a lot like the Lottie House does.”