House Speaker Greg Hughes joined Emily Clark for this week’s ‘Ask the Authority.’ We asked our viewers to send in questions for him, and he answered.
Emily: We have entered the third phase of Operation Rio Grande. Tell us about the focus of jobs and how the community is helping people be better employees.
Hughes: So first phase.. the criminal element, the drug trafficking, the human trafficking, we had to interrupt the ecosystem of crime that had really broken down the social of that area in terrible ways. That is continuing to work, and that’s a job that will stay ongoing. Second is, treatment phase. Treating those people who have found themselves in the throws of addiction. People who need help. We need to make sure we are getting treatment meds online, and that is an ongoing effort as well. But this third phase, the Dignity of Work. When people find themselves in the worst of circumstances, they begin to lose hope. They begin to lose their dignity. And what this third phase does, is that it doesn’t matter what place in life you’re at, sometimes you unfortunately employable right now. But this plan all contemplates: how can we help, even those who are not going to be able to fill a job? How can we help them, and get them ready for gainful employment? What can we do, and partnering with the private sector, this is what’s exciting. You don’t just have just one business or a couple. You have now, with the department of workforce services, and with the leadership of Steve Starks of the Utah Jazz, bringing together many businesses to find opportunities for people, to let them begin to really start to be productive. A kind of beginning of hope, self reliance, is really what’s going to help people pull themselves out of their circumstances. There’s also a little wrinkle to it that i love, “In the morning, a devotional or a meeting to let people know ‘hey, this is your day.’ There’s things you can do to improve your prospect, starting today. And that’s going to be concerted effort, where that dialogue is happening every day with people who need to hear that and need the help. So, it’s an exciting phase, and its taken us a while to get there, and I’m very careful to say this is going to be one person at a time. You’re not going to see thousands of people with new jobs tomorrow. But we are taking this one person at a time. We’re going to learn along the way as far as the employment challenges and how to satisfy those, but this is a comprehensive private-public partnership, and I think that it’s going to bring a new approach to a problem that we’ve had for long time.
Emily: I’m excited to see how that happens. Now, on to #2. There have been reports of increase in crime surrounding Salt Lake City, as patrols focus on the Rio Grande neighborhood. Is Operation Rio Grande spreading crime to other parts of Salt Lake City?
Hughes: So, we did see a dispersion. We knew that when we had a hive of drug trafficking and people who were there, that as we began to enforce the law, that people would scatter. The good news, it’s not person-for-person. There were statistics that a lot of people that were down there had other options, but weren’t exercising those options. We believe that we’re seeing a good number of people who were down in those areas that have left, and they’re not camping and they’re not in adjacent neighborhoods. But there is that happening. But the good news is, I’ve been to four community councils, down there in the Salt Lake area and just outside of Salt Lake. I ask people to fight for their neighborhoods. Get on social media. Contact law enforcement. We’ve budgeted as a state, and when that happens, we’re going to follow criminal behavior. Now, it’s not illegal to be homeless, but if you see suspicious behavior, if you see things that are happening, we need citizens to not just turn their eyes away, but to let us know. I don’t take any offense, and I am not defensive of people that are frustrated or concerned. We need them to take that and bring that to light so to the Commissioner of Public Safety, Commissioner Squires. The reason he’s in charge of this law enforcement effort is that he can cross jurisdictions, and he can follow the issue wherever it may go. We are doing that, and we can always do it better, but we need our residents and our neighborhoods to fight for their neighborhoods, and let us know where they’re seeing it. It’s our goal – I want my money’s worth, we’re budgeting for it, we need to see that happen so that they’re not frustrated or fearful.
To learn more about House Speaker Greg Hughes and Operation Rio Grande, visit House.Utah.Gov.