City News

UPDATED: Salem City Council wants funding identified for mobile crisis response

Update, 10:52 p.m. Monday: Salem city councilors on Monday unanimously voted to seek funding sources for a mobile crisis response team that could respond to some 911 calls instead of police.

But councilors narrowly voted against putting funding for such a project in the city’s list of priorities for the 2023 legislative session.

Councilors were supportive of the program, saying it was clearly needed in Salem and had broad public support, but split over whether the city should prioritize seeking state money for a pilot program in 2023. Other projects the council is seeking state funds for include a sobering center and ongoing support for sheltering services, as well as a $2 million renovation of Peace Plaza public square.

Councilor Vanessa Nordyke unsuccessfully tried to amend the list to include $2 million for a mobile crisis response team, saying the project should be a city priority.

“The worst thing the legislature can do is say no but I don’t want us to forgo a potential opportunity to solve the budgetary question around a mobile crisis unit for at least two years,” she said.

Councilors Jackie Leung, Jose Gonzalez and Linda Nishioka voted with Nordyke to add the project, while Councilors Chris Hoy, Micki Varney, Virginia Stapleton and Mayor Chuck Bennett voted no. Councilor Trevor Phillips was absent.

Hoy, who was appointed in December to serve as a state representative for House District 21 after Rep. Brian Clem stepped down, said not including the project was a matter of strategy. State legislators recently approved statewide funds for similar programs to be distributed through counties, and Hoy said the council’s legislative committee felt it was unlikely Salem would get special funding for a similar effort.

“We didn’t feel that an ask for a specific program for here in Salem would fly, frankly,” Hoy said. “It’s not because we don’t support it. Everyone on the council has been unanimous repeatedly supporting mobile crisis”

Hoy is Salem’s mayor-elect, and his legislative term expires at the end of 2022.

Original story below

Salem city councilors on Monday will consider moving forward with a city-funded crisis team to respond to some 911 calls one year after pressing pause because of a lack of state funding.

Councilor Vanessa Nordyke is asking the city to identify funding sources for the program and issue a request for proposals to get the effort off the ground after a city report found the effort would cost about $700,000 per year. She’s seeking a council vote Monday to direct city employees to take those steps.

Councilor Vanessa Nordyke is asking the city to identify funding sources for the program and issue a request for proposals to get the effort off the ground after a city report found the effort would cost about $700,000 per year. She’s seeking a council vote Monday to direct city employees to take those steps.


A mobile crisis response team typically handles emergency calls relating to mental health concerns or crises, sending mental health professionals and health care providers to respond rather than police.

“In most communities, a mobile crisis response is typically a triage response to an incident or a person exhibiting signs of physical, mental or emotional distress out of doors. The goal is to safely respond to a person in need in outdoor environments like a sidewalk, camp, or other public space.  This could include situations like an intoxicated person in a public location, a person experiencing psychosis, a person disrupting the peace or exhibiting signs of visible distress,” a city report says.

A similar program in Eugene, CAHOOTS, has drawn national attention in recent years as more U.S. cities look for alternatives to law enforcement responding to mental health concerns.

During her time on the council Nordyke has pushed for the creation of a crisis unit, saying it would save the city money by reducing the need for police officers to respond to people in crisis. Salem residents for years have expressed support for a local crisis response, with nearly 100 people writing to the city’s budget committee in 2021 asking members to recommend funding for a program and more than a thousand signing a petition.

“The City Council has already received letters of support for the creation of a mobile crisis unit from downtown business owners, the CEO of Salem Health, the head of the Salem Area Lodging Association, mental health advocates, medical and mental health providers, and homelessness advocates from around the city,” Nordyke’s motion says. “The community support for this project is strong. This MCU will complement services handled by police and fire. It will complete our public safety spectrum.”

A city effort to start up a crisis unit stalled last fall after city officials learned state money that had been earmarked for similar programs was only available to counties, not cities.

In April, city councilors directed city staff to identify organizations qualified to run a mobile crisis response team in Salem and identify costs for the program.

Councilors on Monday will hear the results from that effort, which included studying similar programs in Eugene, Portland, Olympia and speaking with Salem nonprofit and community organizations, local emergency dispatchers, firefighters, emergency medical providers and police.

A city request identified one local organization interested in running such a program.

The report recommends a crisis team in Salem be staffed with an emergency medical technician, who could triage medical concerns in the field and reduce the need to take people to a hospital; and a mental health worker.

The $700,000 suggested budget includes two additional people to take emergency calls at the Willamette Valley Communications Center, which handles 911 calls for the region. The city report recommends a pilot program covering a limited geographic area to gather data on the need and outcomes.

Councilors on Monday will also consider adopting the council’s priorities for the 2023 legislative session, authorizing the city manager to buy land adjacent to Salem’s Franzen Reservoir in Turner, and accepting a federal grant to help bring commercial air service to Salem by guaranteeing minimum revenue for airlines during initial operating years.

How to participate: Councilors will meet remotely at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26. View the meeting on YouTube or watch on CC:Media, channel 21. Submit comments on agenda items by 5 p.m. on the day of the meeting at [email protected]. Public comment and testimony may also be provided during the meeting via Zoom. Pre-register between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the day of the meeting at the following link:

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.