Portland Ore., (KOIN) — Portland City Council voted to hold off on expanding the Street Response program citywide for now during Wednesday’s budget meeting.
The Portland Street Response pilot program was launched in February as a police alternative to homelessness and mental health incidents. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty had proposed an amendment to the budget to expand the program citywide but it was down in a 3-2 vote.
The team will continue working in the greater Lents area.
The pilot program’s start was delayed because of the pandemic so the team has only been responding to calls for a few months.
Mayor Ted Wheeler said all five commissioners support the program, but that there needs to be more information on its efficacy before expanding it. He said he wants to get it right.
“I don’t think we have all the answers right now, mere weeks into the implementation of this program,” Wheeler said Wednesday.
But not everyone in the community agrees with the hesitancy to expand the program.
Street Roots Executive Director Kaia Sand said she felt a sense of grief over Wednesday’s vote.
“I mean can you imagine being the people out there, meeting people on their worst day on the sidewalk trying to help them? At the same time in your head, you know you may not have job security, and the mayor and commissioners are making it clear that you don’t?”
Sand added that the work Street Roots has done in doing homeless outreach over the past several years demonstrates there is a huge need for non-police response in the community. Street Roots is a homeless advocacy group and weekly alternative newspaper dedicated on shedding light on the issues unhoused folks in Portland face every day.
“This is hard,” she said. “We’re dealing with systemic change, so this is hard and it’s clumsy, it’s fractuous, but the thing is we have to all just take a leap of faith and be smart, and draw from the best knowledge out there.”
In a letter to commissioners, the Portland Street Response team said not funding the program to expand citywide on the timeline already established is a disservice to the city and the communities the team serves.
City officials said they plan to evaluate the pilot program at the six and 12 month marks and use that information to decide whether and how to expand the program further.
City council is also considering whether this program should continue to be run through Portland Fire & Rescue or outsourced to a nonprofit.