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Waiting for an outside analysis, then expanding the pilot, is an example of using residents' money wisely.

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF PORTLAND - The founding Portland Street Response Team, clockwise from upper left: Community Health Worker Heather Middleton, Mental Health Crisis Clinician Britt Urban, Firefighter/ Paramedic Tremaine Clayton, and Community Health Worker Haika Mushi.
The Portland City Council handled the creation, and expansion, of Portland Street Response extremely well, and kudos are deserved.

The pilot project started in February. And, while it saw immediate success, the council wisely waited until the verdict was in from an independent, outside analysis before OK'ing the expansion. That's public money wisely spent.

The idea behind Portland Street Response is this: people with guns and handcuffs shouldn't respond to all emergency calls, especially those that involve homeless people, or people who are in mental health crisis. A team composed of a Fire and Rescue paramedic, health workers and a therapist should respond instead. The pilot began in the Lents neighborhood and, according to an OPB report, they got called out to about 15 calls per week from February through mid-August. The report calculated that the team's work reduced the number of police responses in Lents by nearly 5%.

They didn't respond to every crisis. Street Response doesn't roll out for calls involving people in crisis who may be armed, or who are suicidal, or if they're indoors or in non-public places.

City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty should take a bow for pushing this idea and making the pilot happen. It's a creative answer. As Portland Fire and Rescue Chief Sara Boone put it, the program helps create a community in which more people have access the mental health, behavioral health and the social service supports they need. Fire and Rescue houses the new program.

Commissioner Hardesty also wanted to sprint out ahead of the pilot. In May, she pushed the City Council to expand the pilot beyond Lents. Others on the council wanted to wait until researchers at Portland State University had studied how well or poorly it worked, before expanding the pilot elsewhere.

Well, the reviews from the PSU academics are in, and they urge an expansion of Portland Street Response.

For now, the program will expand from 13 square miles in Lents to patrolling 36 square miles. The new response area is bounded by Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard to the west and city limits to the east. It encompasses parts of the Mount Tabor, Laurelhurst, Richmond, Foster-Powell, Mount Scott-Arleta, Brentwood-Darlington, Parkrose Heights, Russell, Hazelwood, Wilkes, Mill Park, Centennial, Powellhurst-Gilbert and Pleasant Valley neighborhoods.

They're also adding a night-shift team.

Money for the expansion comes from funds that previously were adopted ongoing for fiscal year 2020-21. No new sources of revenue is involved. (Editor's note: An earlier version of this editorial listed the funding as new revenue.)

City Hall has promised to pump $1 million into the Street Response team using unexpected federal revenue during the fall budget process, which will get the crisis service working citywide and accessible to anyone who dials 911 sometime next March.

A go-slow approach may seem an odd reaction to a crisis but we have to praise city leaders — starting with Hardesty — for pushing this innovative idea, and for waiting to see what the outside analysts had to say before throwing more money at it.

This is a smart policy, smartly expanded.


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