Portland Street Response dispatched to more than 3,500 calls since expanding city-wide

It's been about six months since Portland Street Response expanded to city-wide operations.
Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 11:45 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - In the six months since expanding services city-wide, Portland Street Response has been a noticeable presence in downtown Portland.

“They are able to make connections where others can’t, and I find that very valuable,” said Jenn Coon, a Peer Support Specialist at Blanchet House in Old Town, which offers food, shelter, and aid to Portland’s unhoused community.

Formerly homeless and struggling with addiction herself, Coon said Portland Street Response, which was envisioned as a way to provide compassionate care to people on the streets, has shown an ability to meet Portlanders in need of help where they are.

“One person in particular, her name is Mary, and they get down on her level,” said Coon. “Mary has a lot of trauma around hospitals and police institutions, so it’s really very difficult to connect with her. This last time her feet were bothering her terribly and they were able to have her take off her shoes and her socks, and they said it had probably been a year since her socks had been off of her feet.”

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Since expanding city-wide back in March, Portland Street Response has been dispatched to more than 3,500 calls for service. With so many calls, and with the program still staffing up, Portland Street Response had to cap its call volume in June because existing staff couldn’t keep up.

“What we’ve done now is that we allow five calls to come. They may wait in a queue while we have our units trying to serve those. But while we’re serving those, any calls coming in that would have traditionally gone to police or fire are going back to police and fire,” said PSR Program Manager Robyn Burek.

According to publicly available data, Portland Street Response team members, usually a paramedic and a social worker, make it on-scene in an average of just under 22 minutes, but more than half of the calls are cancelled on scene, with no patient contact, because the person leaves the area before they arrive.

“If I had one request, it would be that they’re maybe more accessible, quicker on the spot,” said Coon. “Because when I call them, sometimes it takes a while and the person has already moved on.”

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Overall, Portland Street Response is meeting its internal benchmarks and goals, and diverting a significant amount of calls, between 3-4%, from the police and fire bureaus.

Out of the more than 3,500 calls the program has responded to, only 56 have led to requests for police, and only one of those led to an arrest.