PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon’s behavioral health crisis reaches every corner of the state. Now, leaders from all levels are working together to figure out how to fix it, thanks to a push from residents and neighborhood associations seeing the impact every day.

It’s a crisis felt across the state, especially hitting home for the McMurtry family, whose son Kenny struggled for years with psychosis and mental health issues while trying to get solid, continuous help. They thought they found their answer when approached by the Multnomah County Early Assessment and Support Alliance.

“The program was designed and funded just to provide two years of support. How stupid to waste that investment by not having something next to offer,” Christy McMurtry, Kenny’s mom, said. “This was the first crack he fell through.”

After more struggle, he ended up homeless the last few years and nearly two weeks ago, died of an overdose just days before his 34th birthday. It’s stories like theirs prompting a desperate push for change, as neighbors rallied city, county, state and federal leaders together, going beyond jurisdictions for a behavioral health forum on Monday.

“This is not a single jurisdiction issue. People think the city is responsible for everything but so much of behavioral health is the county, the state, it’s the feds. We wanted to bring people from all levels of government together and we wanted them to hear each other,” David Dickson with the Downtown Neighborhood Association and organizer of the forum, said. “Every day that we walk out of our homes or our businesses, we run into people on the street. It’s a terribly disheartening thing to see so much tragedy going on in our streets.”

When it comes to overhauling behavioral health in Oregon – ranking near the bottom in the U.S. for treatment – action is needed on many fronts, from housing to addiction services. One issue brought up by many in Monday night’s forum revolved around compassion and changing how to civilly commit people in need of help.

“We don’t feel comfortable holding people because we cannot say they are at imminent risk of harming themselves or others. That is too high of a standard,” State Rep. Maxine Dexter, who serves Portland, said. “We are failing our community by not changing this statute.”

While discussing, many learned that changing that particular issue would come from the state level. But as the issues trickle down, further services like treatment, housing, etc., would come from other levels, like Multnomah County.

“We need treatment, but we don’t need treatment unless we have places for people to go after treatment. Because or else, they’re going to keep cycling into the ERs, the streets,” Multnomah Co. Commissioner Sharon Meieran said. “We need the experts in behavioral health to be driving the work, and elected leaders to put the money in and help implement and make it happen.”

As for what she could do in her current position with the county, she went on to say, “We need a system, and we need to build that and that’s kind of a long-term thing. We need a plan at the county. There’s work on that. I started that, it got cut short during COVID, but I want to bring that back and finalize it.”

While some changes like creating sobriety centers – beyond detox and treatment – could be done more in the short-term with locations and staffing, other solutions like actually establishing a statewide system for behavioral health will likely take lots of work and collaboration, lasting years down the road.

KOIN 6 will continue to follow up on all efforts being made.