Chief Chuck Lovell Discusses Police Response to Homelessness

Portland Police Badge
Portland Police Badge



October 27, 2020 16:16

  

I think we all agree there are better alternatives than arrests and jail when it comes to addressing our city's homeless crisis. Because of the current state of our social safety net, police are often called to address immediate concerns of community members who are witnessing the breakdown of systemic intervention in their own front yards. While the police do respond to and address criminal activity, the Bureau supports alternative response programs, like the proposed Portland Street Response. Unfortunately, until that program is up and running, there are no alternatives to a police response when someone calls 911 for help.

It is important to remember that officers come to the assistance of homeless crime victims on a daily basis. People who are homeless are some of the most vulnerable in our community, and the police are dedicated to helping everyone live without the fear of crime.

For over a decade, the Portland Police Bureau's Service Coordination Team (SCT), has been directly responsible for coordinating law enforcement, the criminal justice system, supportive housing and treatment resources for people who are experiencing chronic addiction, chronic homelessness, and those chronically in and out of the criminal justice system. In collaboration with Central City Concern, SCT offers direct access to behavioral health treatment, housing and robust wraparound services. The individuals we serve have very complex needs. In response, the Police Bureau developed a program that treats the root causes of the behaviors to end the cycle of addiction and crime.

A recent news story featured a man named Justin Sawtelle. The news story did not mention that Mr. Sawtelle is one of the hundreds of people who participated in the Service Coordination Team program, which serves approximately 130 people per year.

During the past five years the Central Precinct alone referred 220 people to the Intensive Street Engagement Program, which is run by Cascadia and funded through the City/County Joint Office of Homeless Services.

The Police Bureau also has a Homeless Community Liaison in its Community Services Division to help with the city-wide approach to serving people experiencing homelessness.

The Bureau also works to inform new and incoming officers about the limited services available to support the homeless. Portland Police recruiters offered police officer applicants chances to meet and hear from service providers in Old Town to help the applicants better understand this important aspect of serving as an officer in Portland.

Many Portland Police employees volunteer on projects during their time off in the service of people experiencing homelessness in the city.

Police are the last resort in a long line of systemic failures that continue to prevent vulnerable Portlanders from getting the help necessary to transition from the street into a stable living environment. As police professionals, our hope is that mental health and addiction treatment will be expanded and those services, as well as services related to employment and housing, will be increasingly available and easy to access. It is also our hope that state and local governments, non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, private businesses, and the community at large will come together to work on the root causes of homelessness.

If you or someone you know is currently homeless, involved in the criminal justice system, and struggling with addiction, call 503-823-0345 to about programs offered and supported by the Portland Police Bureau.

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