Portland Street Response gearing up to soon tackle nonemergency calls related to mental health, homelessness

(Courtesy: Portland Street Response)
(Courtesy: Portland Street Response)(KPTV)
Updated: Jan. 12, 2021 at 4:46 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - A brand-new public safety program in Portland has launched as an alternative to sending police to mental health calls and homeless issues.

The program, Portland Street Response, has started training for its five-person team comprised of a firefighter, paramedic, mental health clinician, and two community health workers.

The team will start responding to calls for help in mid-February, according to Program Manager Robyn Burek.

“Our goal with Portland Street Response is to essentially serve as a stopgap between the homeless population and the police,” Burek explained. “To stop the cycle of people going in and out of the jail system as well as the emergency department system.”

The program, which is housed under Portland Fire & Rescue and championed by City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, is a pilot initiative now that will respond only to calls for service in the Lents neighborhood.

Neighbors in Lents told FOX 12 they are excited the program is starting in their neighborhood.

“This is really the first tangible support for our community that I’ve seen in eight years,” said Robert Schultz, a former member of the Lents Neighborhood Association.

Still, he’s skeptical of whether it will make a difference.

“Car prowls are so frequent that people don’t even report it,” Schultz said.

Indeed, Portland Street Response won’t respond to crimes, or emergency calls – instead they dispatch to “calls that have to do with mental health, substance use, intoxication and welfare checks,” Burek said.

“You want to divert them into the appropriate systems like treatment, social services that are there to get them out of the cycle,” Burek added.

In six months, the program will expand with another team that will allow 24/7 response in the Lents neighborhood. The city plans to add more locations and teams in 2021.