PORTLAND — Police want Portland residents to be aware that there should be no barriers for people who seek mental health support services in the city.

The department held its first Family Forum on Tuesday night at the police station to promote those services and make its position clear: no one, regardless of their situation, should be denied help in a crisis.

“There may have been times in this community when we missed it and we lost someone. Those family members are grieving and it troubles me,” said Jo Freedman, the department’s mental health coordinator. “We don’t want anyone being told no.”

Freedman said a big part of getting people the help they need is having police officers who are trained to respond to a mental health crisis.

Acting Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said his department realized several years ago that it was falling short in providing the best services to people in crisis.

The department responded by collaborating with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to give its officers crisis intervention training. About 90 percent of its officers have been certified, Sauschuck said.

“We’re here tonight because we understand that the world of a person with mental health issues is a very complicated one to live and to work in and to support your loved ones,” Sauschuck said. “We’d like to lay out tonight what we can do to help.”

Freedman, the lead person for the police department on mental health issues, was joined by several mental health providers, including Steve Addario, program director for Youth Alternatives Ingraham.

“We have tried to open more and more doors” for those in crisis, Addario said. “I don’t want to hear my staff say ‘I can’t help you.’ That message is over.”

Addario said his agency takes about 50,000 calls a year on its hotline — 774-HELP (4357) or (888) 568-1112.

His agency also operates a crisis center at 50 Monument Square in downtown Portland.

Leslie Skillin-Calder is crisis team manager for the Trauma Intervention Program of Portland (553-9311), which trains citizen volunteers who are available to offer emotional support to people in crisis. They often are called by first responders to sit and listen to survivors of a suicide or to assault victims.

“We could be there for an hour or several hours, whatever it takes for someone to get their strength back,” she said.

Several parents whose children have been unable to get the mental health services they need – the children have ended up in prison as a result – came to express their concerns. They did not want to be identified.

“My heart is very passionate for those families and that roller-coaster ride they’re on for someone who is in and out of crisis,” Freedman said.

Freedman said she is drafting legislation that would allow a person to be hospitalized involuntarily if police, a mental health professional and an adult family member agree it is necessary.

“We need to do something, because we are seeing too many people spiraling downward and losing their lives,” Freedman said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]