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Portland Street Response Houseless Survey Results and Pilot Program Updates

Press Release
Published

Houseless advocates, PSU researchers, City and County commissioners will come together to present and discuss survey findings as a follow up on surveys conducted in July with the houseless community. An update to the public on the status of the Portland Street Response pilot program will also be given.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, and City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty will provide remarks regarding the pilot program development. Kaia Sand, Executive Director of Street Roots, will present the initial idea of Portland Street Response, inspired by Eugene’s CAHOOTs program. Greg Townley, research director for the Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative, will present the findings from surveys conducted with the houseless community regarding the pilot program. Street Roots vendors and PSU students will also discuss their experiences conducting the surveys.

Members of Street Roots, Sisters of the Road, Right 2 Survive, Street Books, the Portland State Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative, the Mapping Action Collective, Yellow Brick Road, and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty’s staff went out in teams and interviewed a total of 184 houseless people between July 16-18.

Teams engaged people experiencing houselessness in discussions about what the Portland Street Response pilot should look like, including who the first responders should be, how they should approach individuals in crisis, what types of services and resources they should bring with them, and what types of training they should have. Following the interviews, responses were analyzed and summarized into a report to provide guidance for this important initiative based directly on the needs and experiences of unhoused people.

“Centering the voices of those who are often left out of these public safety policy conversations is the most powerful part about this experience,” said Greg Townley, research director for the Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative. 

Survey respondents had powerful examples of both positive and negative interactions with first responders ranging from “compassionate, supportive” to “horrible, embarrassing, degrading.”

A thread that weaves through all the responses to the survey is a call to be treated humanely. For example, regardless of whether respondents answered that their experiences with first responders were positive or negative, many experienced being treated rudely rather than with politeness and respect.

“Our community values the right of every human to have access to the services and assistance they need,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said. “We also believe those services can be delivered in a compassionate and understanding way using the Portland Street Response model.” 

“Multnomah County is working to open a new, first-of-its kind behavioral health resource center in downtown Portland. We’ll be ready to work hand-in-hand with our partners as they find a more compassionate way to do street outreach,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. “And we're hoping that includes state and federal contributions. We have been waiting a long time for them to pull their weight and help the hundreds of people who’ve been forced to endure their mental health challenges on our streets. Local governments can't solve this problem alone.”

What was made clear in the survey responses was that a response outside of police is needed.

The question then is “If not police, then who?” The most common response was “mental health professionals.” Numerous respondents also noted the importance of social workers for referring people to housing and health services; peer support specialists and/or people with lived experience; and, to a lesser extent, EMTs and firefighters.

“When over half of all arrests in the city are of houseless individuals, and 9-1-1 calls reporting ‘unwanted persons’ have increased drastically over the past 6 years, there’s no doubt something needs to be done to address this issue. I’m looking forward to seeing the draft recommendations come out of months of work between so many stakeholders,” said Commissioner Hardesty.

These responders should make the unhoused community feel safe through a variety of measures. The top suggestions included an assurance to not run checks for outstanding warrants, not to bring weapons and to bring food and water. 

Hardesty continues, “The listening sessions and surveys with the houseless community are critical as we continue collaborating on the creation of the pilot program. Getting the right first responder to the right incident means we need to talk to the people who will interact with these first responders.”

The survey work and results come out of the Community Engagement workgroup, one of the five workgroups assembled to collaborate on the Portland Street Response pilot program. The stakeholder group has met monthly since early summer and has involved over 30 stakeholders from City, County, and service providers.

In addition to the houseless survey, the Community Engagement workgroup sent surveys to the business and neighborhood communities and engaged in listening sessions with the houseless community and service providers.

“The breadth of community engagement conducted by the work group is important,” says Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal. She continues, “The team has engaged with the houseless community, with service providers, and with businesses who make the calls that Portland Street Response will be responding to. The service provider session I attended yielded great information and ideas, and also made clear how complex the issues we’re addressing are. It’s critical that we continue this engagement as we shape the pilot.”

The workgroup will continue taking feedback from the public on the design of the pilot program.

Please send media RSVPs to Lokyee Au at Lokyee.au@portlandoregon.gov

When: September 19, 8:30am – 9:30am

Where: Multnomah County Central Library
US Bank Room
801 SW 10th Ave
Portland, OR 97205