Portland, OR

City of Portland expands program that helps deescalate homeless and mentally ill populations and avoid police response.

Rose Bak

Innovative program helps connect those in crisis with services more quickly than traditional models.

Photo courtesy of City of Portland

After ten months of responding to mental health crisis calls in the Lents neighborhood, the Portland City Council has approved funding for Portland Street Response to expand its services.

As reported by NewsBreak last February, Portland Street Response was funded as a pilot program focusing on one high-impact neighborhood in southeast Portland. The program, which is modeled on successful programs in Eugene and other cities around the country, is meant to reduce police involvement in calls involving people who are experiencing homelessness or appear to be having a mental health crisis.

The pilot kicked included a four-person team of one firefighter EMT (paramedic), one licensed mental health crisis therapist, and two community health workers, all trained in responding to complex trauma.

The team expanded services this week, adding a second team of responders.

Adding the second team allowed the program to expand its territory from serving only the Lents neighborhood to focusing on a larger area of neighborhoods covered by Portland Police Bureau's East Precinct. The service area boundaries are between Southeast 39th Avenue and Northeast 162nd Avenue, and between I-84 and Southeast Clatsop Street.

Photo courtesy of City of Portland

The second team also adds the expertise of two peer support specialists, individuals with lived experience of mental health disorders and/or homelessness that are able to relate to individuals who are struggling in a way that more traditional social workers often cannot.

The teams are called out by 911 operators where a mental health emergency is suspected. They conduct wellness checks, assist with crisis de-escalation, and if necessary, connect the person with sobering services or medical care as well as offering access to appropriate social services.

The program was created after years of intensive advocacy by Street Roots newspaper and dozens of partners including businesses and non-profits.

Photo courtesy of City of Portland

Portland Street Response is housed with Portland Fire & Rescue in order to take advantage of the department’s 911 infrastructure system. It also provides separation between the team and the Portland Police Bureau, which has traditionally struggled to respond to calls involving individuals in an active mental health crisis. Just last April, a police officer shot and killed a man in Lents who was struggling with a mental health emergency, an incident that many advocates believe could have been avoided if the Portland Street Response had been called on scene to assist.

In announcing the change, Fire Chief Sarah Boone said:

“This next phase of Portland Street Response’s expansion is part of Portland Fire & Rescue’s commitment to health equity and a bureau-wide vision for creating a community where all of our neighbors are able to access the mental, behavioral health, and social service supports they need to live healthy, productive lives."

Long-term goals for the program are to continue to expand services to support the entire city within the next year.

The program is being evaluated by Portland State University’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative.

For more information on Portland Street Response, visit their website.

#portland #homelessness #publicsafety #mental health #police #fire

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Rose Bak is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and special needs dogs. She writes on a variety of topics including local news, homelessness, poverty, relationships, yoga, and aging. She is also a published author of romantic fiction. For more of Rose's work, visit her website at rosebakenterprises.com or follow her on social media @AuthorRoseBak.

Portland, OR

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