Portland Street Response: What Are You Waiting For?
By Vlad Yurlov
Portland’s Lents neighborhood got a new homeless program in 2021. Could you tell? For the past three months, a paramedic and a social worker have been connecting homeless people to social services and addressing disturbances. But the pilot team has been waiting for police dispatch to give it leads, so it goes on just two calls per day. Relieving Portland’s officers from non-emergency calls is useful, but a proactive approach would be more beneficial for homeless people and worn-out police officers.
The City intended Portland Street Response to reduce interactions between police and homeless people and those in mental crisis. Dispatch calls can be one method of contact, but the team is hitting just one quarter of its capacity.
There have been thousands of calls requesting non-violent interaction with the homeless since the program began. The team could easily fill its capacity by scanning sidewalks and connecting homeless people to resources while waiting for opportunities from dispatch. This would truly prevent police interaction and fulfill the program’s mission. Before expanding the program citywide with millions of dollars, Portland Street Response must operate at maximum capacity. Portland deserves proactive solutions.
Vlad Yurlov is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.
The Portland Street Response could do the things you suggest if their objective was to connect homeless people to social services. If it was their objective then either they are very bad at it or that is not the objective. It smacks of a government boondoggle to appease activists and appear as if they are doing something. By not doing much they can ask for more funds. They can say “see the police are not cooperating give us more of the police funds” They have no incentive to do the job well and so they won’t.
Are the paramedic and a social worker being paid full time? If they are not out there proactively connecting with the homeless, what are they doing with their time?
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