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City Council receives a one-year update on the non-police alternative to 911 calls.

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF PORTLAND - A Portland Street Response team in action.The Portland Street Response program is credited with reducing police and fire calls to non-emergencies and referring people in crisis to supportive services in a report presented to the City Council on Tuesday, April 26.

The report was prepared by the Portland State University Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative. It evaluated the first year of the program that was launched as a pilot in the Lents neighborhood on Feb. 16, 2021, before being expanded citywide last fall.

Among the report's major findings in the program's service area and during its hours of operation:

• 4% reduction in total calls traditionally responded to by police.

• 27% reduction in police response on non-emergency welfare checks and dispatches coded as "unwanted persons" calls.

• 12.4% reduction in fire department activity on behavioral health calls and illegal burn calls.

• Only 29 clients (3.2% of all calls) required transport to hospital. Most were treated on scene.

One big factor revealed in the study was that the Portland Street Response program is still not very well known. More than 70% of the homeless contacted by PSR hadn't heard about them before. But once they interacted with the PSR teams, they rated the service a "5" on a scale with "5" being the best.

According to the report, the initial team consisted of a firefighter paramedic, a licensed mental health crisis responder and two community health workers, with a second team added in November consisting of a firefighter EMT, a mental health crisis responder and two peer support specialists. They are based in Portland Fire & Rescue.

"PSR responded to 903 calls in the first year with zero calls resulting in arrests. The PSR team made 144 referrals during the initial contact, and the team's community health workers and peer support specialists made another 261 referrals in 437 follow-up visits with clients for everything from housing and financial benefits to medical treatment and pet care. The team also helped nine people find permanent housing," the report said.

The evaluation also included recommendations to further increase the program's effectiveness. They include: continuing to expand the program across the city 24-7; providing staffing levels that allow sufficient time with clients; refining community outreach/education to include more of the unhoused community and continue to advance racial equity.

"Since day one, Portland Street Response has led with values centering accountability, transparency, and adaptation guided by our pilot evaluations. I'm incredibly thankful for the work of PSU's Homeless Research & Action Collaborative, which shows Portland Street Response is ready to move beyond the pilot phase as a permanent solution for non-violent 911 calls relating to those experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis," said Fire Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who championed the program.

The full report can be found here.

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