PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — During the early days of the 2020 unrest, calls were made for Portland to stop sending armed police officers to deal with mental and behavioral health challengers. The first step toward that goal began on Tuesday.
The Portland Street Response team is now responding to calls, beginning in the Lents neighborhood after a month of training and walking the area to introduce themselves.
The team said they were dispatched to a report of a woman yelling in the street along with some other calls on Tuesday.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and PF&R Rescue Division Chief Ryan Gillespie held an afternoon press conference to introduce the Portland Response Team and answer questions about it. Wheeler said the program is good for both first responders and the homeless community.
“They deserve our support and access to appropriate treatment. That means sending the right responders to the right place at the right time,” Wheeler said. “Others will benefit, too. Every time Portland Street Response is dispatched, fire[fighters] and police are freed up to respond to Portland’s other pressing needs.”
At the outset, the team includes 5 people: a program manager, a firefighter/paramedic, a mental health clinician and 2 community health workers. They’ll be available 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. A second team will be added to cover nights and weekends in 6 months. The program will continue to expand in 2022 to cover more of the city.
Officials said the Lents neighborhood was the choice for the pilot phase of the Portland Response Team because “the volume of mental and behavioral health calls in Lents is outpacing the growth of similar calls in other parts of the city.”
“People in crisis and people who call 911 will be better served by this new option,” Wheeler said. “Every call the Street Response team answers allows police to respond to other high priority calls.”
“The community asked for a non-police response to calls that don’t require an armed police officer on site and we’re delivering,” Hardesty said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more excited to see this team in action and to learn from this pilot period about how to make this program the best it can be.”