Portland Street Response Starts Pilot Program

Portland Street Response (PSR), the innovative non-police response championed by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty to assist people experiencing houselessness or a behavioral/mental health crisis, kicked off its first day with its pilot team on Monday, January 11.

The team consists of a program manager, a firefighter/paramedic, a mental health clinician, and two community health workers. You can find out more about the team here: https://www.portland.gov/streetresponse/meet-team. Portland Street Response is housed within Portland Fire & Rescue. “Thank you to the many people who have worked exceedingly hard to get us to this important day,” says Fire Chief Sara Boone. “The Fire Service has always been nimble in order to respond to the emergency needs of our communities. The launch of Portland Street Response is the latest chapter of the fire service story that builds off our history in emergency medical response. I’m excited to see this team hit the streets in its pilot form so we can better learn how to help those experiencing houselessness or mental health crises.”

The month-long training program consists of modules such as Peer Support 101; Mental Health First Aid classes focused on adults and youth; Crisis De-escalation and Scene Safety; Suicidality and Risk Assessment, as well as nuts and bolts training on things such as radio usage and dispatch protocols. The team will also train with members of the CAHOOTS team from Eugene (CAHOOTS is the groundbreaking program on which PSR is modeled.) The Oregonian reported that more than half of arrests police made in 2017 were of homeless people (just 3% of the population). This program will seek to aid those living on the street in times of crisis rather than routing them through the criminal justice system.

The first part of the pilot will operate in the Lents area. Lents was designated as the first pilot location because it has fewer existing resources and services than other parts of Portland; additionally, the volume of potential PSR 911 calls in Lents is outpacing the growth of calls across the rest of the city. This team will work Monday through Friday 10 am-6 pm. After six months, a second pilot team will be added to cover the same area but respond at night and on the weekends. By 2022, the program will ramp up to include more teams and coverage to locations across the city.

“When I ran for office in 2016, I knew that there was a better way to help people on the street and to respond to mental health crises without involving police. After years of working with the community to come up with a better solution to assist people who need help instead of handcuffs, executing on this promise is one of most exciting moments of my time in City Hall,” says Fire Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty. “This day would not have come without the push and passion of so many people. Thank you to Chief Boone and Portland Fire & Rescue for enthusiastically stepping forward with this concept, our labor partners who are working with us to create something new from scratch, the team at Street Roots for inspiring us, the community for offering their insights, and Mayor Wheeler for his support and collaboration. This project is a marathon, not a sprint, and I thank everyone for their patience while we build something from the ground up. I’m excited to see what we will discover during this pilot program that will inform how we make this the best program we can for the whole city.”

During the pilot period, community members in Lents may request Street Response, but 911 dispatchers have a list of questions they will ask to determine which responder is most appropriate to send: Police, Fire, Portland Street Response, or AMR ambulance service. If the call fits the criteria for Portland Street Response to respond, dispatchers will alert the team and send them to the call.

Program Manager Robyn Burek says: “We’re excited to start training to get our team on the ground and start responding to calls. This project is a collaborative effort between many bureaus and agencies; this pilot is our opportunity to learn and finesse the program so it can serve constituents effectively when we roll it out to the rest of the city.”

Source: Portland Fire & Rescue

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