Portland Street Response expands citywide with new answer for mental health, addiction-related 911 calls

From OPB.org, March 28, 2022

Starting Monday, people across Portland looking to assist someone in a mental health crisis have a new option: They can call 911 and ask for the Portland Street Response.

The unarmed emergency response program now serves the entire city, quadrupling the footprint of the program and bringing the police alternative to Portland’s entire 145 square miles.

The program, housed within the Portland Fire Bureau, dispatches a firefighter paramedic, a mental health crisis therapist and two community health workers to respond to emergency calls that don’t require a police response. The program started off in the Lents neighborhood in Southeast Portland a year ago and has been expanding methodically since. The program has covered 36 square miles in East Portland since November. Teams will now respond to calls citywide from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

At a press conference Monday in front of downtown’s Fire Station 1, Portland leaders praised the expansion as necessary step to to provide better outcomes for people experiencing a mental health crisis and reduce the heavy call load for the city’s public safety bureaus. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the architect behind the program, hailed Portland Street Response as the first major update to the city’s public safety system in over a century. Mayor Ted Wheeler said he believed it would allow police to “refocus” on violent criminals and beef up the city’s ability to address the mental health crises that play out every day on Portland’s streets.

Portland Street Response Begins Citywide Coverage
Portland Mercury, March 28, 2022

Portland Street Response, the city program that responds to 911 calls related to low-risk behavioral health issues, has formally expanded to respond to calls originating from across Portland.

“This is a historic day in the city of Portland,” said City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, speaking Monday morning at a press conference. Hardesty is the commissioner in charge of Portland Fire and Rescue, which oversees Portland Street Response. “We are celebrating today,” she added.

It’s been just over a year since the street response program began as a pilot program, solely responding to calls in Southeast Portland’s Lents neighborhood. The program was proposed in 2019 as a way to both lessen the workload of the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) and to steer people in need toward social services and health care instead of the criminal justice system. A six-month evaluation of the pilot program by Portland State University found that the program had met its initial goals by reducing the number of police responses in Lents by nearly 5 percent and none of the calls resulted in a person being placed under arrest. The majority of people the team responds to are unhoused.