Portland Street Response expands
Portland’s unarmed street response team has expanded their coverage across the city as of yesterday. Portland Street Response can now take 911 calls without needing to check a map. The program responds to calls about crises that don’t involve criminal activity, usually related to an individual’s mental health. Team members also build relationships and trust in neighborhoods when not working on crisis calls.
Currently, Portland Street Response can take calls seven days a week, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. each day. When Portland Street Response launched on February 16, 2021, the program covered just five square miles and operated for forty hours per week. The team has grown from six staffers to 20 to cover that work and is continuing to recruit: Portland Street Response is currently hiring, both for responders and for a training coordinator.
During a press conference yesterday, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty announced plans for an additional budget request which would allow the program to expand to 24-hour coverage, which would require increasing staffing to 58 employees. Hardesty also noted that the expansion of Portland Street Response happened specifically because of community advocates and members contacting other members of Portland’s city council to make a case for the program’s growth.
While the expansion is important, especially in providing alternatives to sending armed officers to respond to mental health crises, we’ll likely see some bumps in the road in the coming months.
- Just because Portland Street Response is available for a given crisis doesn’t mean that they’ll be sent out. The Portland Police Bureau refuses to allow unarmed responders to go out on crises calls involving people who are suicidal, where people are indoors, or if a weapon is potentially involved. That last point is why PPB sent armed officers to respond to an incident in an area covered by Portland Street Response on April 16, 2021, which lead to PPB Officer Zachary DeLong killing Robert Delgado.
- Portland Street Response should only be one part of a cohesive approach — there are limited services responders can refer people to. There’s no sobering or detox center currently operating in Portland and minimal emergency mental healthcare options, let alone housing options. In their first year of operation, 65% of Portland Street Response’s calls involved houseless clients, but the program was only able to help a total of nine clients secure permanent housing across nearly 1,000 calls.
- There’s been an on-going push to criminalize houselessness and poverty, from Mayor Ted Wheeler’s efforts to blame people camping near roads for traffic deaths to People for Portland’s proposed ballot measure which would force folks without access to housing into mass camps. Despite being part of the City of Portland’s emergency response options, Portland Street Response is sometimes left out of the loop on city actions, like sweeps of encampments. Building trust with someone actively being harmed by the organization that oversees your work is difficult at best.
- During contract negotiations, the Portland Police Association required written guarantees that Portland Street Response couldn’t be used to reduce the Portland Police Bureau’s workforce. PPA representatives, 911 call center officials, and representatives of the street response program are scheduled to meet to discuss what calls police officers are willing to handover to Portland Street Response.
As this year’s budget process ramps up, keep an eye out for ways to support Portland Street Response’s continuing growth. A demilitarized response to crises here in Portland benefits all residents.
COVID commutations didn’t cause a spike in recidivism
The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission release a report this month on outcomes for prisoners released early due to COVID-19 risks. Governor Kate Brown commuted sentences for 963 prisoners between July 2020 and October 2021, most of whom were medically vulnerable to COVID and had less than six months remaining on their sentences. Brown was presented with plans in July 2020 to release 2,000 prisoners (out of an estimated 7,000 medically-vulnerable prisoners), but refused. She continues to face criticism and lawsuits over the commutations. The U.S, and Oregon in particular, released only a fraction of the number of prisoners granted freedom in order to minimize COVID deaths when compared to global releases.
While comparing data on recidivism before and during a pandemic is difficult, doing so provides some context. In 2019, 20% of people released from Oregon prisons were arrested again within one year. Of those prisoners who received COVID-related commutations, 18% were arrested again within one year. By far, the most common reason for arrest after release is for violating a condition of release — not for committing a new crime. Research has long demonstrated that incarceration has relatively impact on crime rates and, in fact, crime went down during the same periods these commutations were released.
Counting the number of Oregon prisoners who have contracted COVID is difficult, as is calculating the number of prisoners who have died due to the pandemic. The Oregon Department of Corrections has reported 45 deaths of people in its prisons, as well as roughly 5,000 cases of COVID among those prisoners. Those numbers do not include county-operated or federally-operated jails and prisons in Oregon, nor has there been meaningful analysis of the impact of wide-spread refusals to wear masks and receive vaccines by every level of carceral staff. Street Roots released a list of 42 prisoners who had likely died from COVID just in the first year of the pandemic, making it clear that among those who died were many who effectively received a death sentence for drug possession (which was decriminalized in Oregon at the beginning of 2021), identity theft, or parole violations. It’s also unclear how many prisoners face long-term disability or other health issues as a result of contracting COVID while incarcerated, as well as how many prisoners have been unable to access medical care for other conditions due to COVID-related constraints.
Observing Trans Week of Visibility and Action in Portland
Trans Week of Visibility and Action started on Friday, March 25 and runs through Thursday, March 31. There are still plenty of ways to take action in the next few days to support trans folk here in Portland:
- Donate to Gender Reveal’s Trans Day of Snacks fundraiser, which provides mutual aid to trans folks of color for basic needs (rent, medical care, etc.).
- Buy some of Gender Reveal’s awesome Trans Day of Snacks merch, which also supports the fundraiser.
- Because Tuck Woodstock, the founder of both Gender Reveal and Trans Day of Snacks, is focusing more on larger mutual aid grants this year, buy all your trans friends some tasty snacks.
- Attend the Q Center’s Transgender Day of Visibility festivities, including their Trans Youth Artists Gala. You can donate to the Q Center, too!
- Donate to Outside In, which provides gender-affirming care to Portland youth experiencing homelessness.
- Have friends or family in Missouri, Kansas, or South Carolina? Get them involved with Trans Week’s state-specific action days. And you can do some of Trans Week’s suggested actions in the next three days even if you aren’t in those states.