PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Street Response reports that the program responded to almost 20 times the calls in October of 2022 compared to October 2021. There were 824 phone calls last month compared to 44 last October, which represents a 1773% growth.

“Last month was the busiest month yet because it’s a good indicator that we’re almost fully scaled up to where we need to be,” said Robyn Burek, the program manager of Portland Street Response.

The street response team offers an alternative approach to assisting people who face mental health and behavioral health crises. Before the program was launched in 2021, most 911 calls would have received a response from armed police officers, Portland Fire & Rescue, or, sometimes, no response at all.

The pilot program was exclusive to the Lents neighborhood when it first launched in 2021. According to the Street Response, “Lents was designated as the first pilot location because it is not supported with many existing resources and services; additionally, the volume of calls in Lents is outpacing the growth of calls across the rest of the city.”

It wasn’t until March 28, 2022, that the response team expanded its coverage to the entire city of Portland. Now, the program has hired over 50 new employees to meet Portland’s need for an unarmed community responder team.

PSR recently expanded its service hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day and, according to the city, the program is on track to begin 24/7, citywide coverage by the end of this year.

In October, elected officials from across the country visited Portland to learn more about its Street Response program in hopes of implementing a similar one in their own cities. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who is running for re-election in 2022, hosted the event.

“Portland Street Response is one of the most innovative and successful new programs in Portland’s history, providing the first major update to our first response system in almost 100 years. As PSR continues to expand, we continue to ensure the most effective first response is sent to the right 911 call,” Hardesty said.

To get the word out to more people about the mental and behavioral crisis teams, PSR increased its advertisements in September. Ads can now be seen on TriMet buses and billboards throughout the city.

According to a release from the city of Portland, the Portland Police Bureau credited PSR expansion as part of the reason they were able to deploy additional police patrols in Old Town.

The release also reports that the American Rescue Plan includes funding for programs like Portland’s Street Response team and Hardesty says she will advocate for it. Proponents of PSR say millions of dollars will be saved from the city of Portland’s budget if those efforts are successful.

As the program grows, they say it has freed up resources for other first responders, so they can respond to more life-threatening emergencies. For example, Portland Street Response says they’ve been able to take 20% of welfare checks off Portland Police’s plate.

“If we look at welfare checks alone that would normally go to police, we see that we’ve actually been able to divert 20% of their call load away from police and come to us instead,” Burek said.