By Nancy Tannler

At the July meeting of the Lents Neighborhood Livability Association (LNLA), Tremaine Clayton of Portland Fire & Rescue gave an update on Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty’s plans for Portland Street Response (PSR) to handle non-emergency calls.

The program was scheduled to begin this spring but due to COVID-19, action has been delayed.

PSR will be a trauma-informed team working in pairs, able to go directly to a person in crisis in a van, able to provide immediate stabilization in case of urgent medical need or psychological crisis. This program is designed to alleviate the stress on Portland Police officers, allowing them to attend to more urgent situations.

In February, Mayor Wheeler and City Council allocated $500,000 to start up the PSR. The original plan was to procure three well equipped vans carrying food, water, hand warmers, blankets and medical supplies and a two-person team.

At that time, it was expected that, by summer, they would be up and running. Instead, Clayton is working with one other mental health worker 40 hours a week – the best they’ve got for now.

They do what is called a welfare check on any individual experiencing behavioral health or non-emergency medical problems.

Clayton has been getting all the procedural paperwork done in readiness for when the project does start to move forward. The most optimistic start date for the funding is this fall, but realistically it will likely be early 2021.

One positive outcome of the delay is that Mayor Wheeler now recognizes how valuable a service like this will be to the city and is allocating more funding, enough to buy 18 vans, Clayton said.

Another street ready service the Mayor and City Council approved in late 2018 was to hire 12 safety support specialists, or PS3s. These are unarmed officers who assist Portland police in responding to low-risk calls. They have been helpful in dealing with the types of situations PSR will attend to.

There has been a 60 percent increase regarding “unwanted persons” calls since 2013. Responding can take up to 50 minutes; time our local police officers don’t have for non-emergency calls.

The PSR pilot program is an attempt to fix the gap in services for these individuals. This is a much-needed service in our community.

Photo of Portland Fire & Rescue’s Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT) van courtesy of Portland Street Response