PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — During a time when some people are demanding changes to how we police, a program to help take on some 911 calls for those experiencing homelessness or a mental health crisis is moving forward.

Portland Fire and Rescue is hiring. The open positions are for a mental health provider and a community health worker. The Portland Street Response is a pilot program that is expected to start up by late January to early February of next year.

On Monday night, Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty put together a panel to talk about community safety and what it meant to those who participated.

“It matters who shows up for 911 [calls]. It matters if they have the resources to address what the current situation is,” said the commissioner.

The discussion looked at the issue through a public health lens. The new pilot program will operate in the Lents neighborhood to start. It will be a non-police response to calls for those who are in crisis or experiencing houselessness. Its launch was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Portland Fire has now begun to put a team together.

“Portland Fire and Rescue has the infrastructure and we are currently connected to the current 911 system, and really, with this goal of Portland Street Response is to update the first responders system by providing that alternate compassionate first response,” said Tremaine Clayton of PF&R.

Back in June, Portland City Council voted to reallocate $4.8 million from the Portland Police Bureau to the Portland Street Response so that it could expand to six teams.

“We are looking at it from a prevention—if we can understand what the concern is and connect them to those resources,” said Clayton.

“If we look at community safety as a health issue, then we will invest dollars differently to make sure we are investing in the community supports that make community members safer and healthier,” said Hardesty.

Portland Fire said once the pilot program starts, they will look into bringing in a second team after the six-month mark. The next meeting to discuss community safety is next Thursday, Oct. 22.