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Portland City Council voted against including funds in the 2021-22 city budget that would have allowed the city's Portland Street Response pilot program to expand citywide within the year.
Commissioners made the decision during a Thursday council meeting on Mayor Ted Wheeler's $5.7 billion proposed city budget, which Wheeler initially released on April 29. The Thursday meeting focused on amendments city commissioners want to see added to Wheeler's proposed budget. One of those amendments, proposed by City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, focused on putting $3.6 million towards Portland Street Response, a program housed within Portland Fire and Rescue that provides non-police emergency response to 911 calls related to mental health crises or regarding unhoused people. The program is currently operating as a pilot confined to a one-van team of four people, made up of mental health clinicians and emergency medical technicians, in Southeast Portland's Lents Neighborhood. The year-long pilot, which was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic's hiring delays, began in mid-February.
During the city's last budget cycle, City Council voted to move $4.8 million from the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) into a reserve fund for Portland Street Response. Wheeler's proposed budget suggests allocating just under $1 million of that fund to Portland Street Response, to allow the program to complete the year-long pilot in Lents. Hardesty's $3.6 million boost would have used those reserve funds to allow the pilot to expand to a citywide program with six teams starting in March 2022, a month after the pilot concludes. City Commissioner Carmen Rubio voted in support of the plan.
Wheeler and city commissioners Mingus Mapps and Dan Ryan voted against Hardesty's amendment out of concern that the pilot needs to be evaluated by City Council before ramping up to cover the entire city.
"We are completely committed to expanding this program as soon as possible, but I can tell you there are pieces of this program that we have not figured out yet," said Mapps, whose office oversees the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC), which manages the city's 911 call center. "It is possible for government programs to fail... and if it does, I think we will have lost one of the most exciting policy opportunities of a generation."Continue reading »