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The pilot non-police crisis response team will start in Lents before expanding to other parts of the city.

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF PORTLAND - Members of the Portland Street Response team in Lents.The pilot Portland Street Response team will be dispatched in Lents for the first time on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

The team is intended to be an innovative non-police response to assist people experiencing houselessness or a behavioral or mental health crisis. It includes a program manager, a Portland Fire & Rescue paramedic, a mental health crisis clinician, and two community health workers.

"We all agree we need new and better responses to people suffering mental health crises. Portland Street Response embodies and implements that agreement," Mayor Ted Wheeler said. "People in crisis and people who call 911 will be better served by this new option. Every call the Street Response team answers allows Police to respond to other high priority calls. The launch of Portland Street Response is a win for Portland."

Each team member has trained for the past month to prepare for calls. They have been walking the Lents neighborhood, the pilot location, to introduce themselves to business owners and community members and to explain how they will aid Lents neighbors in crisis. Lents was designated as the pilot location because it is not supported with many existing resources and services. In addition, the volume of mental and behavioral health calls in Lents is outpacing the growth of similar calls in other parts of the city.

"The community asked for a non-police response to calls that don't require an armed police officer on site and we're delivering. I couldn't be more excited to see this team in action and to learn from this pilot period about how to make this program the best it can be," said Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees the fire bureau where the team is housed and was an early champion of it.

The team initially will be available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. After six months, a second team will be added to cover the same area and to expand services to nights and weekend. By 2022, the program will ramp up to include more teams and coverage to locations across the city.

The team is based in part on a successful program in Eugene called CAHOOTS for Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets. It was first approved by the Portland City Council in November 2019.

"It's rare in modern times for a new branch of a public safety system to be created from scratch," Hardesty said., "It's rarer still for a city department to be built by the people who will be beneficiaries of the program. After many months of methodical outreach, consultation and construction: we're ready. For community members living on the streets, this program could not come soon enough. People caught in the trap of a criminal justice system that ensnares them for simply trying to survive demand change, neighbors and family members demand change, and the first responders who need to be focused on high-level calls for service demand change. This first step toward change is here."

Fire Chief Sara Boone said the fire bureau has had to be nimble over the years to respond to the ever-changing needs of the community.

"Portland Fire & Rescue is proud to help launch Portland Street Response and we're thankful for the hard work put in by our staff on this vanguard program. We're excited to learn more from this pilot period and see how this much needed service can serve the whole city. This latest chapter of the first response story is historic, and we thank all of our partners who joined together to make this moment happen," said Boone.

Video of the team in Lents can be found here.

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