Engaging Unhoused Community Members in the Design of an Alternative First Responder Program Aimed at Reducing the Criminalization of Homelessness

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Journal of Community Psychology

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Police are often called to address concerns about people experiencing homelessness, with arrests often resulting from low-level, nonviolent crimes, and violations of minor nuisance ordinances. In Portland, Oregon, advocates lobbied for a new model of emergency response for 911 calls involving unhoused community members and people experiencing behavioral health crises. To ensure the program reflected the needs and perspectives of people experiencing homelessness, teams of researchers, community volunteers, and people with lived experience interviewed 184 people in camps, shelters, and parks. Teams asked unhoused people how the program should be designed, including who the first responders should be, how they should approach individuals in crisis, what resources they should provide, and how they should be trained. This article describes the methods, findings, and recommendations from our collaborative survey process aimed at ensuring that the voices of people experiencing homelessness informed the development of the Portland Street Response pilot program.


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