Portland City Council Faces Pressure to Reinvest in Street Response


The city program Portland Street Response, which sends mental health workers to 911 calls related to people having behavioral health crises outside, is being urged by dozens of nonprofits, businesses, advocacy groups, and state lawmakers to receive full funding and expansion.

The coalition published a petition on Monday urging Portland City Council to seriously consider its fledgling alternate first response program.

“As members of the community who support the expansion of our public safety system to include effective unarmed alternatives to police such as Portland Street Response, we are asking the Portland City Council to stick to their promise: that they champion and expand Portland Street Response,” the petition from the recently formed group Friends of Portland Street Response stated.

Urge City Council to Reinvest

This group is made up of 40 businesses and individuals from the area, including Sisters of the Road, Blanchet House, Think Real Estate, the Urban League of Portland, and Revant Optics. Additionally, the petition has the support of state lawmakers Khanh Pham, Rob Nosse, Maxine Dexter, and Lisa Reynolds, as well as Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt.

They all support Portland Street Response in unison. In 2020, Portland City Council approved the program as a trial project within Portland Fire & Rescue. Since then, it has expanded to include the entire city and respond to crises.

The letter is the result of a turbulent few months for the program, during which there was a change in leadership, a decline in worker morale, and financial concern.

After beating outgoing fire commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez was chosen to lead Portland Fire & Rescue in January. Hardesty was the driving force behind Portland Street Response’s establishment in the city and saw to it that it received the financing and assistance required for it to expand in recent years.

The tweet below confirms the news:

After taking office, Gonzalez gradually put the brakes on this project by first ordering a hiring freeze for Portland Fire & Rescue and then prohibiting Portland Street Response workers from providing tents to clients who were experiencing homelessness.

Portland Street Response was unable to finish a planned expansion to a 24/7 operation at the beginning of the year due to a lack of manpower. Due to this shortage, the program has also been unable to receive government grants that may have provided it with the long-term funding it currently requires.

The first manager of Portland Street Response departed in June, which exacerbated employee unhappiness. All Portland City Council members need to take immediate action to solve these and other problems, according to a petition that was submitted on Monday.

The letter claims that “it is obvious that this enormously popular, successful, and desperately needed program is now at risk.” As Portland Street Response’s friends, we stand united in our unwavering support for the program’s original objectives and the precise steps required to revive and maintain it.

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Portland Street Response Program Faces Uncertain Future

These challenges appear as the program experiences measured success: According to recent research by Portland State University, the initiative has succeeded in reducing the burden of police officers and keeping persons with mental health problems out of jail. But at City Hall, this information was not given any attention.

The petition’s signatories include the director of Northwest Pilot Project, an organization that provides housing assistance to elderly low-income seniors. Laura Golino de Lovato. She claimed that Portland Street Response has shown to be quite helpful for both her team and clients when they have gone through mental health crises. She is perplexed as to why the mayor and city council don’t seem to value the program.

De Lovato remarked that it appeared as though there had already been some type of predetermined decision not to support Portland Street Response. “That seems like a very deliberate and intentional effort to get rid of the program.”

De Lovato expressed the hope that the petition will show council members how well-liked and respected Portland Street Response is throughout the city and, hopefully, spur them to take action.

“City Council is really missing a chance to be bold and to engage with the community to come up with a solution,” she claimed. “I wish they would recognize that as an opportunity to truly improve Portland.”

Before presenting the petition to Portland City Council, the organization intends to circulate it to gather more signatures.

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