Portland/ Real Estate & Development
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Published on February 22, 2024
Portland Launches 311 Program to Help Homeless Connect with Outreach WorkersSource: Unsplash / Nathan Dumlao

In a bold move to tackle homelessness, the City of Portland has unveiled a program allowing its unsheltered population to reach out directly for aid. As reported by KGW, this program, commencing Thursday, permits anyone to dial 311 to seek help for themselves or another person. It's a response to the city's escalating homelessness, aiming to provide a lifeline to people like Jessie, a former resident of a camp along I-5 who said, "There are certain people who do want help and for us people that want help; it’s impossible to get any help."

Looking for a remedy to the problem, the city believes the service could be a game changer. "The goal is to put an outreach worker in front of an unsheltered homeless individual when they’re asking for it and ready to take that next step," Hank Smith, Mayor Ted Wheeler’s policy and communications advisor, told The Oregonian/OregonLive. Callers will answer a few questions, feeding a city database to keep tabs on who needs assistance and where they're located, with an outreach worker slated to respond within three days of the call.

Mayor Wheeler’s office outlined on KOIN that the Street Outreach Request Program is not meant to deal with emergencies. Instead, it's designed to help those ready to seek assistance and transition toward available resources without guaranteeing immediate shelter access. "Our outreach teams want to be able to help those in need as quickly as possible," Mayor Wheeler stated.

Despite the optimistic approach, the city is bracing for potential hurdles, bearing in mind nearly 4,000 unsheltered individuals in the Portland area. "We also don’t want to miss that magic moment when someone has been living on the street a long time and decides they want help and they are ready," Smith admitted to The Oregonian/OregonLive. The outreach team, comprising six employees, can juggle up to 75 cases simultaneously, contrasting with typical caseloads, due to only needing to facilitate the passage to subsequent support rather than establish long-term rapport.

Community members invested in the issue are urged to only use the service if they have consent from the unsheltered individual requiring assistance and can furnish a name and location details. In case of a dire emergency, authorities emphasize continuing to use the 911 service, or calling for the Portland Street Response if encountering someone in a mental health crisis.