Portland Street Response to expand services March 28, after outside review finds success

Published: Mar. 3, 2022 at 6:20 PM PST
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - After just over a year in operation, the City of Portland will be expanding the Portland Street Response program later this month.

The program, which pairs EMT/Paramedics with mental health professionals to respond to non-emergency calls for service that have a behavioral health component, will add staff and grow from serving neighborhoods in East Portland to responding to calls city-wide.

“We’re succeeding.  We’re succeeding at diverting calls from first responders and we’re succeeding at a good, first-rate customer service experience for the individuals that we do interact with,” said Robyn Burek, Portland Street Response’s Program Director.

Since the program launched in February, 2021, its two teams have responded to more than 900 calls, and most recently averaged more than 100 calls per month.  69% of the people they encounter are experiencing houselessness.

“Some people just need immediate resources in the moment, and then some people will want that after care, and so we’ll make follow-up contact hopefully within a few days,” said Britt Urban, a clinical social worker and Response Team member.

The City of Portland contracted with Portland State University to track the program’s performance.  A review of the first six months in service found PSR is meeting its goals of reducing call volumes for other first responders and steering people toward services.

“We found in the first six months that the program was able to reach a 4.6% reduction in total calls that police traditionally would have responded to in the PSR service area,” said Dr. Greg Townley, Co-Founder of Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative at PSU. “Things like welfare checks and unwanted persons calls, there we actually see a 22.5% reduction in police response on those types of calls.”

Starting on March 28, Portland Street Response will begin responding to calls city-wide.  Initially, responders will be active between 8am and 10pm, seven days a week, with the goal of expanding to 24-hour coverage by October.

PSU researchers recommended expanding the call criteria for the program to include calls inside homes and calls involving suicide, which are currently handled by the Portland Police Bureau.