Storm damage recovery

Joint Statement on Portland Street Response from Mayor Wheeler and Commissioners Mapps and Ryan

Press Release
Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioner Dan Ryan, and Commissioner Mingus Mapps comment on funding the Portland Street Response pilot program

Please find below a joint statement from the offices of Commissioner Dan Ryan, Commissioner Mingus Mapps and Mayor Ted Wheeler on Portland Street Response

In late 2019, the Portland City Council unanimously and enthusiastically approved a proposal to add a third branch to the City’s first responder system. The new branch would be called Portland Street Response, and would start with a one-year pilot in the Lents neighborhood.

Council was clear in its commitment to building an emergency response system that would meet the needs of community members experiencing mental health crises. The new approach was intended to reduce police and firefighter interactions with people who have not committed a crime or who do not require emergency medical attention. Portland Street Response would be a key component of redefining the City’s approach to creating a safer, more welcoming community.

We are now at an exciting new stage of the program. While the pandemic and other factors delayed the launch by a year, the Portland Street Response pilot is now in the early days of implementation and is currently responding to calls. The pilot is committed to flexibility, data collection, and performance reporting, as evidenced by Council’s support this week to fund an independent evaluation by Portland State University as well as by the 2019 Council item itself: “Because this is a pilot program, it will be flexible, making programmatic changes based on what is learned in the field to constantly improve throughout the pilot period. This means that, at the end of the year, the program may look different than it did at its initiation...A final report will be issued at the conclusion of the 12-month pilot, with recommendations for next steps based on what we have learned.”

We also know we have more to learn. The recent tragic death in Lents Park proves this. It is our ethical imperative to do more with this program--and in doing so, create an effective, empathetic, and sustainable service that provides a model that other cities can follow.

We are committed to expanding this program beyond the pilot as quickly as possible. But before we do so, we must ensure that we have the right model – one that works. Success requires us to be methodical and ensure that the program’s services are effectively aligned with with the County’s mental health system and other private partners. The policy decisions about how best to do this are not without risk and require the deliberation and responsibility of the full City Council. The City does not need another quickly-built, siloed, and failed program. Successful expansion of the program requires a solid plan for strategy, governance, and implementation.

There are big questions ahead, which require thoughtful Council conversation, driven by data, to answer. Here are a few. There are options to expand the program to housed as well as unhoused residents, as is done in Eugene; move to a 24/7 schedule; move to a peak hour shift; or expand geographically. The Bureau of Emergency Communications (9-1-1), Street Response team, and Police Bureau must work together to figure out the right types of mental health calls for the new program to take. Expansion on any dimension will have implications for the partner agencies that are integrated into this response – as well as on County partners that will serve the program’s referrals. Running the pilot as scoped will allow Portland State University to study the program and provide recommendations – a contract approved by Council just this week.

This program could lead to new financial partnerships with the healthcare system. Those negotiations will require the City’s financial leadership team to be engaged and at the table. The Mayor’s Proposed Budget includes a budget note directing our Community Safety Transition Director and Chief Administrative Officer to deliver a study of the financial model – a study that will inform negotiations with the healthcare system. And we have a number of options to consider for the model itself. CAHOOTS is run by a nonprofit community health clinic while Portland Street Response is a program in the City’s Fire Bureau. Project Respond, a local nonprofit community health clinic running a mobile crisis response program, is a potential partner for this program.

The 2021 Portland City Council is united in its support of Portland Street Response and is keeping faith with the thoughtful on-ramp proposed in 2019. Council has responsibly set aside funding to expand the program at the conclusion of the pilot, based on lessons learned from the program’s first year of operation.
Portland Street Response has been up and running for little more than two months. So far the program has responded to about 100 calls. For comparison, our 9-1-1 operators answer nearly one million calls a year. Initial feedback on the program is promising, but there is a lot we still don't know.  And implementing Portland Street Response sloppily would be a disservice to both our houseless neighbors and Portland taxpayers. If we take this moment to thoughtfully design the program, we will ensure success when we roll out the service in Old Town/Chinatown and beyond.
We look forward to reviewing the first report on this critical pilot in August, which will be the six-month mark of the program, and the 12-month report in March of next year. These check-ins will help us make good choices about full, permanent implementation.

Portlanders have shouldered the burden of inadequate help for those in crisis on our streets for too long. We’ve failed not only our neighbors most in need, but also our residents and businesses that have watched livability decay in the city we love. We are committed to delivering on Portland Street Response as a critical part of the solution and will be working closely with City leadership to address the policy and operational considerations noted here. Most importantly, we pledge to keep in touch with the community at every step of the way. In this moment of renewal and recovery, we’re reminded of the proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”