The pilot for the Portland Street Response (PSR), an innovative non-police response to assist people experiencing houselessness or a behavioral/mental health crisis, hits the streets for the first time on Feb.16. Beginning at 10 am, the team started taking calls dispatched from 911 to offer an alternative to the police for people suffering mental and behavioral health challenges.
The team includes a program manager, a firefighter/paramedic, a mental health crisis clinician, and two community health workers. Each team member trained for the past month to prepare for calls. The team has been walking the Lents neighborhood, the pilot location, to introduce themselves to business owners and community members and to explain how they will aid Lents neighbors in crisis.
Lents was designated as the pilot location because it is not supported with many existing resources and services; additionally, the volume of mental and behavioral health calls in Lents is outpacing the growth of similar calls in other parts of the city. The team initially will be available Monday through Friday from 10 am to 6 pm. After six months, a second team will be added to cover the same area and to expand services to nights and weekends. By 2022, the program will ramp up to include more teams and coverage to locations across the city.
“We all agree we need new and better responses to people suffering mental health crises. Portland Street response embodies and implements that agreement,” says Mayor Ted Wheeler. “People in crisis and people who call 911 will be better served by this new option. Every call the Street Response team answers allow Police to respond to other high-priority calls. The launch of Portland Street Response is a win for Portland,” he said.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, Portland’s fire commissioner and an early champion of the Portland Street Response concept says: “The community asked for a non-police response to calls that don’t require an armed police officer on site and we’re delivering. I couldn’t be more excited to see this team in action and to learn from this pilot period about how to make this program the best it can be.”
She adds: “It’s rare in modern times for a new branch of a public safety system to be created from scratch. It’s rarer still for a city department to be built by the people who will be beneficiaries of the program. After many months of methodical outreach, consultation, and construction: we’re ready. For community members living on the streets, this program could not come soon enough. People caught in the trap of a criminal justice system that ensnares them for simply trying to survive demand change, neighbors and family members demand change, and the first responders who need to be focused on high-level calls for service demand change. This first step toward change is here.”
Fire Chief Sara Boone says that the fire service has had to be nimble over the years to respond to the ever-changing needs of the community. “Portland Fire & Rescue is proud to help launch Portland Street Response and we’re thankful for the hard work put in by our staff on this vanguard program. We’re excited to learn more from this pilot period and see how this much needed service can serve the whole city. This latest chapter of the first response story is historic, and we thank all of our partners who joined together to make this moment happen.”
The types of calls that will be dispatched to PSR that were previously sent to police include:
- Person outside needing a welfare check:
- person down, unchecked (condition unknown)
- person intoxicated or drug‐affected
- person outside yelling
- Person outside needing referral to services that do not have access to a phone.
- Person outside needing a face‐to‐face mental health check when they cannot be transferred to the Multnomah County Crisis Line by phone.
- Co‐response/mutual aid request from emergency responders.
- Response requests from non-public‐safety entities.
Follow Portland Street Response on Twitter at @PDXStResponse to receive updates on the program.
For more information, visit portland.gov/streetresponse/psr-fa