During a time when some people are demanding changes to how we police, a program to help take on some 911 calls for those experiencing homelessness or a mental health crisis is moving forward.
Portland Fire & Rescue is hiring. The open positions are for a mental health provider and a community health worker. Portland Street Response is a pilot program that is expected to start up by late January to early February of next year. It will dispatch the two new positions and a PF&R Emergency Medical Technician to calls that do not require an armed police officer.
On Monday night, Oct. 12, City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty hosted an online discussion as part of her Rethink Portland initiative to talk about community safety and what it meant to those who participated.
"It matters who shows up for 911 [calls]. It matters if they have the resources to address what the current situation is," Hardesty said.
The discussion looked at the issue through a public health lens. The new pilot program will operate in the Lents neighborhood to start. Its launch was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but PF&R is now putting the teams together.
"Portland Fire & Rescue has the infrastructure and we are connected to the current 911 system … and really, this goal of Portland Street Response is to update the first responders system by providing that alternate compassionate first response," said Tremaine Clayton of PF&R.
Back in June, Portland City Council voted to reallocate $4.8 million from the Portland Police Bureau to the Portland Street Response so it could expand to six teams.
"We are looking at it from a prevention — if we can understand what the concern is and connect them to those resources," said Clayton.
"If we look at community safety as a health issue, then we will invest dollars differently to make sure we are investing in the community supports that make community members safer and healthier," said Hardesty.
PF&R said once the pilot program starts, they will look into bringing in a second team after the six-month mark. The next Rethink Portland online event meeting to discuss community safety is next Thursday, Oct. 22. More information is available at rethinkportland.com.
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. Their story can be found here.
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