Portland Council agrees: Expand unarmed crisis team citywide

Civic Affairs

Mayor Ted Wheeler and the other council members appear to have signed on to Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty's plans for Portland Street Response

A photo of the Portland Street Response team as seen on the City of Portland’s website, February 15, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — An unarmed crisis team is poised to respond to emergencies across all of Portland under a relatively new proposal steaming toward approval at City Hall.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty pushed to add $3.6 million to expand Portland Street Response citywide earlier this year. Even so, the vote didn’t go her way after Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioners Dan Ryan and Mingus Mapps said the team’s six-month test run in the Lents neighborhood should finish up before growing the program.

Now that the clock has run out, Hardesty is back at bat for the upcoming Fall Budget Monitoring Process — and calling for a $1.08 million bump to PSR’s current $1.9 million allocation.

“Portland Street Response is not just a program — it’s a rethinking of our entire first response system,” said Hardesty, who is overseeing the pilot program as the city’s fire bureau commissioner.

The council appears unified in agreement on the program’s implementation.

“We’re opening new avenues of care for people who have low or no access to the healthcare system,” said Commissioner Carmen Rubio.

Portland Street Response is already set to add a second van and begin working nights and weekends across most of Southeast Portland.

But assuming the cash comes through, Hardesty says a total of three vans will roll on both sides of the river starting next March, after the bureau onboards 13 new staffers beginning in January. The proposed hiring spree would bring four crisis medics, four mental health crisis clinicians, three community health workers and two peer support specialists to the team.

Mayor Wheeler and the other three commissioners noted that Portland State University’s evaluation agreed that PSR should expand.

“I look forward to seeing Portland Street Response grow so we can serve additional community members in need of assistance,” said Wheeler.

“Now that we have a roadmap of substantial and meaningful data, I am thrilled to work with my colleagues to expand PSR across the city,” added Commissioner Ryan.

The ordinance with all the budget requests is scheduled to be filed on Oct. 18. The council will hold a work session on them on Oct. 19, a public hearing on Oct. 27, and take the final vote that same day.

By the numbers:

It’s been six-months since Portland Street Response began serving the streets of the city’s Lents neighborhood. Here’s how well they did, according to a recent PSU study:

383 — total number of incidents to which PSR responded.

12 minutes, 47 seconds — average PSR response time.

15 minutes, 3 seconds — average time PSR spent on scene.

24 — number of referrals made to local shelters and clinics.

24.8% — percentage of calls that ended in no further action beyond the field evaluation.

88% — percentage of calls that did not involve another agency, such as Portland police, fire or ambulance crews.

8,528 — number of calls Portland police would not have needed to respond to if PSR had been operating citywide and 24/7 during the pilot period.

0 — number of calls that ended in an arrest.

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