Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty secures support for her push to expand Portland Street Response citywide
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty on Wednesday indicated she has lined up majority support on
the Portland City Council to expand citywide Portland’s program that dispatches health care
teams instead of police to evaluate and help people in mental health crisis on the streets.
It will require $1 million in additional city spending, on top of the $1.9 million already set
aside to expand the program, Hardesty’s office said. The program would continue to be run by
the Portland fire bureau, the office said, rather than outsourced to a nonprofit, a potentially
money-saving change that some city council members has said they wanted to consider.
A press release, issued by Hardesty’s office Wednesday, included supportive comments from
Commissioners Carmen Rubio, Mingus Mapps and Dan Ryan and Mayor Ted Wheeler –
suggesting there will be a sweeping vote of approval for her proposal come Oct. 27.
The commissioners’ hearty praise of the program and its potential expansion came just a day
after Portland State University researchers release a report indicating a small pilot version of
the program, serving just the Lents neighborhood of Southeast Portland, had met its goals.
“With Portland Street Response, we’re opening new avenues of care for people who have low
or no access to the healthcare system,” Rubio said in a statement. “And each response that
provides vulnerable people with compassionate care at the moment they most need it builds a
better first response system for all Portlanders.”
If Hardesty’s proposed budget amendment passes, it would allow the behavioral health team
to respond to every corner of the city, seven days a week come spring, her office said. Three
vans would be available for response from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and
three from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Sunday.
The expansion would include the addition of four crisis medics, three community health
workers and two peer support specialists.
The soonest the expanded team could hit the streets is spring — when the other additional
units are slated to come online.
That’s because, to expand beyond the six teams previously agreed upon, the city would either
need to renegotiate union contracts with the Portland Firefighters Association and Portland
Police Association or provide notice to the unions of the city’s intent to expand the program
and secure their agreement to allow that without reopening bargaining, said Matt McNally,
spokesperson for Hardesty’s office. Discussions are already underway with the unions to try
to secure approval and terms for the expansion, McNally said.
If the city were to declare its intent to make the change without renegotiating, the union would
have 14 days to demand the city rebargain, he said. If the union made such a demand,
bargaining would last at least 90 days.
Mapps explicitly stated his support for Hardesty’s proposal. “I am particularly encouraged by
the program’s impact on reducing police response to non-emergency and behavioral health
calls. The budget proposal, if passed, will allocate just over a million additional dollars this
year to allow Portland Street Response to ramp up responsibly and to serve the entire Portland
community,” he said.
Hardesty said she and staffers in Wheeler’s office are currently working on an additional
funding proposal for the program as well.
The program evaluation by Portland State University indicated there would be a benefit to
keeping the program as a city-run entity.
Keeping the program within the fire department would provide “an infrastructure that is
directly connected to 911 … (and) may also allow (the program’s teams) to expand response
to some higher acuity calls requiring lights and sirens,” it said.
McNally said the city will be hiring a dedicated Portland Street Response dispatcher within
the call center which “is a needed piece for successful expansion.”