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Murmurs: Hardesty Again Seeks Citywide Expansion of Portland Street Response

In other news: Mapps wants to automate non-emergency calls.

HARDESTY AGAIN SEEKS CITYWIDE EXPANSION OF PORTLAND STREET RESPONSE: For the second time this year, City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has proposed a citywide expansion of Portland Street Response, which dispatches unarmed mental health professionals and paramedics in lieu of police to some mental health crisis calls. The proposal is outlined in the fall budget submission by Portland Fire & Rescue: one of Hardesty’s bureaus that also houses PSR. The submission asks for about $1 million to fund 13 full-time positions—including four crisis medics and four mental health crisis clinicians—as well as two vans and five sedans. PSR, which launched its pilot program in February, is currently relegated to the Lents neighborhood. In the spring, Hardesty proposed $3.6 million in ongoing funds for a citywide expansion. The City Council voted against that proposal 3-2, with Commissioner Carmen Rubio providing the second yes vote. But on Sept. 17, Mayor Ted Wheeler said he was open to an expansion of the program. Hardesty says she is “making no assumptions” about how her colleagues will vote: “The time for action is now.”

MAPPS WANTS TO AUTOMATE NON-EMERGENCY CALLS: City Commissioner Mingus Mapps wants to install an artificial intelligence system within 90 days to take around 20% of the non-emergency calls currently answered by dispatchers at the Bureau of Emergency Communications. Mapps calls the city’s marriage of emergency and non-emergency calls decades ago a “fundamental policy mistake,” and one that’s become magnified this year amid record-high homicides and shootings in Portland as the understaffed bureau struggles to quickly handle both kinds of calls. Some 911 callers in Portland are put on hold for minutes longer than the national average of 15 to 20 seconds. Mapps says the software costs $70,000 to install—and he will seek other commissioners’ approval for the funding during the fall budgeting process.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT VANISHING: In a letter earlier this month to Gov. Kate Brown, 22 Oregon leaders in substance abuse treatment warned that at least 12 treatment providers are closing. The Sept. 2 letter blames the exodus on the slow distribution of funds from Measure 110, which decriminalized most hard drugs. The next step after decriminalization was supposed to be new funding flowing from cannabis taxes. “The slow implementation of resources is causing system failure,” the letter says. “There is a clear and present danger to the system that demands your immediate action. There are at least a dozen [substance abuse disorder] programs shutting down.” The letter asks Brown to take action to direct resources to this “rapidly exploding behavioral health emergency.” More Oregonians have died from drug overdoses during the pandemic than have died from COVID-19, the letter says. In response, Brown directed the Oregon Health Authority to increase funding, seek to boost staffing, and reduce administrative burdens.

SECOND CHALLENGER ANNOUNCES RUN AGAINST HARDESTY: A conservative business lawyer and consultant will challenge City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty in 2022. Rene Gonzalez, who operates his own legal and consulting firm, is running on a platform that opposes Hardesty’s positions on nearly every issue: He supports an increased police force and removal of all unsanctioned homeless camps. “[Hardesty] has demonized and attempted to defund public safety officers at a time when we badly need them,” Gonzalez tells WW. “This has most certainly contributed to the sense of lawlessness in Portland.” Gonzalez founded Reopen Portland Schools last fall, a group of parents who demanded a return to in-person instruction. Gonzalez joins Vadim Mozyrsky, a Social Security benefits judge, in the race to unseat Hardesty.