New ‘Portland Street Response’ boundary widens beyond Lents

Despite expanded service area, learn why the new Portland Street Response program team are not dispatched to every disturbance within it …

During the April LNLA meeting, members of the new Portland Street Response “pilot program” say they’ll now responds to calls beyond part of the Lents neighborhood – including parts of the Powellhurst-Gilbert, Hazelwood, and Mill Park neighborhoods.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

After a reported armed disturbance in Lents Park led to a police shooting on April 16, neighbors, protesters, and media repeatedly demanded to know why the new Portland Street Response pilot program team hadn’t been called in before the police.

> To read Police shooting in Lents Park
draws ‘hostile crowd’

But those who had attended the Lents Neighborhood Livability Association (LNLA) public meeting Thursday April 8, held in the Community Connection Center on Mt. Scott already knew why.

Their members are only dispatched to houselessness or those having behavioral or mental health crises, says Portland Street Response Program Manager Robyn Burek.

“We only are dispatched to calls by the 9-1-1 Center when no crime is being actively committed, or when there is no weapon present,” Portland Street Response Program Manager Robyn Burek told East Portland News before the meeting began.

“Our objective is to be able to free up Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers from responding to calls assisting people experiencing ‘houselessness’, or having ‘low acuity’ behavioral or mental health crises – so the officers can go address the more critical calls,” Burek explained.

Started taking calls in February
During the LNLA meeting, attendees learned that the Portland Street Response (PSR) pilot program actually started back in January, when the team began training. They were dispatched to their first call on February 16, and began serving inside the boundaries of the “Fire District” covered by Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Station 11, which is in Lents Town Center.

Burek told the group that their team of four includes a Firefighter/EMT, a Licensed Mental Health Crisis Therapist, and two Community Health Workers. They work Monday through Friday, from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

“Then, we expect that a second, similar team will be added, perhaps in August, covering the same area, but adding coverage at night and on the weekends,” Burek told the 17 neighbors attending that meeting.

Program Manager Robyn Burek itemizes how their pilot program measures success.

So far, we’ve been on about 60 calls,” Burek enumerated. About 40% of those are mental health calls, and 38% of them are ‘substance-use’ calls. We have given out a lot of referrals for services; and, our Community Health Workers have been connecting people to shelters and temporary housing, as well as getting people signed up for health insurance.”

Three goal metrics revealed
The PSR program measures effectiveness in three ways, Burek pointed out:

  1. The number of calls they’ve gone on, where no crime is being committed, which would have traditionally been serviced by police
  2. The number of people they’ve helped who were diverted away from hospital Emergency Departments; “We have a paramedic on our team who can perform some of that pre-hospital care/treatment, and hopefully avoid taking somebody to the hospital for that care, and saving those expenses”
  3. The number of non-emergency calls avoided that would’ve traditionally been serviced by PF&R.

The need for such services in Lents was why their pilot project was sited there, PF&R PSR member Tremaine Clayton says.

Firefighter sees need in Lents
Next, the PF&R Firefighter/Paramedic in this new program, Tremaine Clayton, observed that over his two decades in the Fire Bureau, his assignments have ranged from being on the crew at Station 11, to being a Public Education Officer, and even a Fire Inspector.

Asked why the PSR was being restricted to Lents, Clayton responded, “It’s because of the lack of services that we’ve seen out here; and, starting with one team, we didn’t want to be overwhelmed” – most likely winding up working in the downtown core.

“In 2013, I was also involved in a project try to address the high utilization of services; and trying to find alternate destinations and transport options instead of hospital Emergency Departments,” Clayton remarked. “But, not having 9-1-1 Dispatch involved at that time, was one of the biggest components that was missing in that project. Now, we have [9-1-1] Dispatch working with us evaluating calls, making sure that we’re sending the right resources to each incident.”

An important part of what the PSR team does is evaluating the people they’re sent to check on, PF&R’s Clayton says.

Sorting out homeless, mental health and drug issues
When going on a typical ‘Welfare Check” call he said, “It is difficult to say if a person has an underlying mental health issue, such as schizophrenia – or experiencing drug-induced psychosis.”

“We can’t force people into drug treatment, getting mental health care, or living off the street,” Clayton remarked. “We do our best to ‘treat them in place’, and gain that trust, so they know that we’re ‘safe people’ to be around, and that we can help them. We may not be able to end their homelessness or addiction – but we are giving them the steps they need to try to navigate the system, and to get to that place themselves.”

Already seen success
One of their successes has been helping pregnant homeless female immigrants, Clayton acknowledged. “We connected one lady to one of our Community Health Workers; and working with our immigrant community resources, we were able to get her housed.

“Having the resources of our Community Health Workers in this model is very good,” contended Clayton.

-6 The area shaded in the light purple color was the PSR’s original service area; it’s been expanded to include the area bounded here by purple lines. PSR provided map

Service area expanded in April
The previous boundaries were bordered by SE Powell Boulevard on the north; SE 82nd Avenue of Roses to the west; the Clackamas County and City of Portland boundaries along Clatsop Street on the south; and about SE 112th Avenue on the east.

“We decided that, since we have the capacity, we’d expand the boundary so that it also encompasses the Portland Police district in the area,” Burek explained.

The new boundaries are primarily to SE Division Street – with a small area extending past NE Glisan Street – on the north; SE Clatsop Street on the south; SE 62nd Avenue to the west; and Powell Butte along the eastern boundary.

To learn more about Portland Street Response, and to see their “Address Look-up Tool” to see if an incident is in their coverage area, check their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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