Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has released a blueprint for The Portland Street Response, a pilot program that will dispatch a team from Fire and Rescue to some 911 calls involving people who are homeless.
It’s a small program with a lofty goal: reduce unnecessary arrests and emergency room visits for people who are homeless. Mayor Ted Wheeler funded the pilot in his 2019 budget.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty oversees Portland Fire and Rescue and the city’s 911 call center. Developing the pilot program, which was also championed by the newspaper StreetRoots, has been one of her top priorities during her first year in office.
“I am personally very hopeful for what Portland Street Response can do to modernize our first responder system,” Hardesty said. “We must do better, and I believe getting the right first responder to the right incident at the right time will help us do just that.”
Portland Street Response is modeled after the city of Eugene’s long running mental health first responder team, known as CAHOOTS.
While CAHOOTS employs about 40 people, Portland’s pilot, set to launch this spring, is starting small. The initial team will have two staff, an emergency medical specialist and a mental health crisis worker.
During the pilot phase, the team will respond exclusively to calls in the Lents neighborhood in Southeast Portland.
The team will respond to low risk 911 calls involving people who are homeless, for example, calls about people who are yelling, intoxicated, or need someone to check on their health or welfare. It will not respond to calls involving people who are violent or carrying weapons.
The team will carry food, water, blankets and first aid supplies.
Investigations by the Oregonian and the city auditor have found that approximately half of the people arrested in Portland in 2017 were homeless.