Portland Street Response’s future hangs in balance: ‘I feel like it’s about to implode’

Oregon Live

June 23, 2023

Under harsh summer sun or freezing winter rain, similar incidents have occurred week after week in Portland. A naked woman wanders in confusion through Old Town. Another writhes in pain in Lents.

Aiding unclothed individuals in crisis has become a near daily occurrence, say members of the non-police intervention team Portland Street Response. Until recently, they would offer clothing as a humane gesture while they attempted to calm the person.

For two years, the program bucked the public safety status quo by sending mental health workers and EMTs in place of armed police to trouble spots on the street. It responded to nearly 7,400 calls over the past year, 98% of which had been traditionally handled by police.

But now, Portland Street Response is without a champion at City Hall and lacks secure long-term funding. Its future has been imperiled further by turbulence within the Portland Fire Bureau, which houses the program, as bureau officials navigate deepening financial challenges and leadership changes.