Portland Street Response Highly Successful

When developing Portland Street Response (PSR), the City of Portland demonstrated a commitment to transparency and data-based policy making by ensuring the pilot would be independently evaluated from day one. We knew the status quo was not providing the help those experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis needed. Through evaluating PSR and reporting back at 6 months and now one year, we can quickly act on policy recommendations to ensure PSR can continuously adapt and improve as an effective solution to ensure we send the right responder to the right 911 call. 

On Tuesday, April 26th, the Portland City Council was provided an extensive one-year evaluation report from Dr. Greg Townley and the PSU Homeless Research & Action Collaborative.

What the report showed is that Portland Street Response has been a resounding success after completing its initial pilot year, making significant progress on every intended outcome we set for the pilot. For example, during the pilot’s operating hours in the PSR pilot service area:

  • The PSR call load represented a 4% reduction in total calls that police would have traditionally responded to.
  • PSR activity represented a 27% reduction in PPB response on non-emergency welfare checks and unwanted persons calls. 
  • PSR activity represented a reduction of 12.4% in PF&R activity on behavioral health calls and illegal burn calls.
  • 89% of PSR calls involved no co-response with another first responder entity. PSR only requested a PPB co-response 18 times throughout their first year.
  • PSR was able to resolve the vast majority of its calls in the field, with only 29 clients (3.2% of all calls) transported to the hospital for additional care.
  • PSR staff engaged over 2,500 community members in outreach and engagement activities during the first year of the program. These included de-escalation trainings, door-to-door canvassing at businesses and residences to raise awareness about PSR, efforts to keep unhoused people and other community members safe during the record heatwaves of summer 2021, and community health clinics.
  • PSR clients rated PSR 5 on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best.

Following PSU’s 6-month report last Fall, Portland City Council made a unanimous decision at the time to fund PSR expansion citywide, but not 24/7. That citywide expansion occurred in March and was commemorated at a press conference where Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Hardesty expressed a commitment to continued collaboration and expansion of Portland Street Response.

The Portland Tribune praised that expansion, recently writing in an editorial: “The decision to expand Portland Street Response is the very definition of good public policy: Come up with an innovative solution to a problem; pilot it on a limited basis; have it audited by outsiders; and if it succeeds, then pour money into it.”

Now the one-year evaluation is here, and the top recommendation is to continue expanding Portland Street Response to ensure it is fully funded to be able to respond to appropriate 911 calls 24/7, citywide.

“The resounding success of the Portland Street Response pilot makes our next step clear: it’s time to transition Portland Street Response from a pilot to a permanent first response option with the funding required to operate 24/7 throughout all of Portland, as this report recommends,” said Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees Portland Street Response through Portland Fire & Rescue. “This is the first major update to our first response system in over 150 years and as a city we should all be proud to have successfully implemented such an innovative and effective new 911 response.”

"This is confirmation of what great work is being done by Portland Street Response,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler. “Our city has long needed an alternative solution to the difficult reality of so many Portlanders suffering from mental health crisis. Thank you Commissioner Hardesty and PF&R Chief Boone for your work building this team."

“Portland Street Response fills a key need as we build a diversified community safety system,” said Commissioner Carmen Rubio. “I commend Commissioner Hardesty, her staff, Robyn Burek, and the staff of Portland Street Response for their successful first year. We now must continue building on these early successes to make this a service Portlanders can depend on for years to come.”

"Portland Street Response is a welcome addition to our public safety system.” said Commissioner Mingus Mapps. “The findings of the Portland State University are encouraging, and I want to thank PSR staff and Commissioner Hardesty for all their hard work."

“Portland Street Response fills a critical gap that Portland Fire & Rescue and the Portland Police Bureau have requested for years, and PSR is integral to improving our first responder system,” said Commissioner Dan Ryan. “I am pleased to learn more about PSR’s integration with dispatchers, and grateful that Portland State University is leading the necessary evaluation work to improve our impact and delivery. I intend to further integrate PSR with outreach and assessment systems for our unhoused neighbors through our continued partnership with Multnomah County. Here’s to building and innovating with data to guide this journey!” 

Source: Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty

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