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Portland's unarmed crisis response team looks to go 24/7

Increased demand could lead the program to operate 24/7 within the next few months, adding two units to a new nightshift.
Credit: Portland Street Response

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland’s homelessness crisis has skyrocketed the last few years, with thousands sleeping on the streets every night, and many in need of care.

That’s one of many reasons why Portland Street Response, which supplements police and safety services, plans to expand its services this year. The move has support from 70% of readers responding to the Portland Business Journal's Advancing Portland survey support the expansion.

Portland Street Response, which debuted in early 2021, dispatches mental health professionals, community health workers and peer support specialists in lieu of police to certain 911 calls. This program, housed under Portland Fire and Rescue, was prompted by a 2019 city auditor’s report that revealed disproportionate arrest rates among the city’s homelessness population.

Oftentimes, minor disturbance or mental health courtesy calls don’t warrant a police officer’s presence, said program director Robyn Burek. PSR acts as a supplement or sometimes alternative in those situations.

“These lower acuity calls that are coming in really were never designed to go to police or fire, they just didn't have the right responder in place to take them. And what we've continued to see with 911 calls is that, it's going up and up and up, but largely for these lower acuity types of calls, and it centers around the social determinants of health,” Burek said.

Currently, PSR operates daily between 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with most of its calls occurring between noon and 3 p.m. Between April 2002 and September 2022, PSR received 3,228 calls, a more than 700% increase from the same time period a year prior.

Burek said increased demand could lead the program to operate 24/7 within the next few months. Six units will be available during the day as they currently are while a nightshift will gain two more units.

For more on the expansion, visit the Portland Business Journal.

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