SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) The architects of “Operation Rio Grande” took big strides Tuesday to silence their critics who claimed they weren’t doing enough to help the homeless.
Those critics went after phase one which is that massive police operation to get rid of the drug dealers and criminals who prey on the homeless. That phase will continue through Jun of 2019 and has resulted in at least 423 arrests so far.
Critics claimed the massive police presence of 160 officers is simply an attack on the homeless and does nothing to help them.
Well help is on the way. The brain trust of the operation held a news conference at the Odyssey House treatment program to announced that 241 residential beds will be freed up between now and December. The beds are coming from some of the leaders in rehab like Odyssey House, First Step and House of Hope.
“These non-violent drug offenders need treatment and recovery support,” says Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. “They can then return to stable and sufficient lives.”
Even Pamela Atkinson, a staunch defender of dignity for the homeless, supports the plan. “I know that many people are going to be given their lives back and their feeling of love and compassion. To see the hopefulness in their eyes is just tremendous.”
A new special drug court was also announced Tuesday. Basically homeless people arrested for drug offenses will be taken to jail, assigned a public defender and assessed for what level of care they may need.
If drug treatment is called for, they will be offered a bed in one of the rehab facilities. If they complete drug treatment their charges will be dropped. If they quit the program they will go back to jail and face the original charges in the regular court system.
Even though the crime crackdown is tough, compassion seems to be working according to Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown. “It’s making a difference,” says the Chief. “And let me tell you how I know. Last Friday 4 individuals walked into the front door of the Community Connection Center and asked for detox help, and they got it.”
Phase two is a critical component of the entire plan. If the homeless don’t get help, they’ll be back on the street. Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, the main architect of the operation, says simply “it has to be successful.”