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Utah leaders consider Operation Rio Grande a success at law enforcement panel

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) — State, county and city leaders discussed the progress and future goals of Operation Rio Grande during a law enforcement panel.

Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox says Operation Rio Grande is working.

“I did a walk around similar to this a year ago — the first of August,” said Cox. “It was a completely different world — the Rio Grande Area (and) Pioneer Park. We’re walking around (and) talking to people. The best part is having them walk up to us and tell us thank you for making this a safer place.”

Commissioner Keith Squires, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, Utah State Representative Greg Hughes and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams led the panel.

The leaders highlighted eight main ways the operation helps the homeless:

  1. Assessment – 195 people assessed for risk and need level
  2. Housing – 300 people housed
  3. Housing – 243 new residential treatment beds
  4. Employment – 80 people employed
  5. Expungement – 191 expungement certificates issued
  6. Health Care – 2,442 new Targeted Adult Medicaid enrollments
  7. Court Programs – 105 people pled into specialty court program
  8. Drug Seizures – 124 pounds of drugs seized

“We want to help them help themselves,” said Mayor McAdams. “We know that’s the right thing to do – to help them turn their lives around, but it’s also the right thing to do for the taxpayers… It’s less expensive to help someone turn their life around then it is to keep them in and out of jail.”

“The governor’s efforts are good,” said Kevin Thrower, a homeless Utahn. “There’s more you can do, but you don’t want to do too much because it will infringe on human rights but you can’t do too little because you won’t get anything done.”

Leaders say this operation isn’t just about public safety; it is also about safer streets for the homeless.

“We needed to take the lawlessness and the wolves, who were preying upon these people and go after them,” said Utah State Representative Greg Hughes. “We had to know who people were to make a difference.”

Now leaders are focusing on treatment for drug recovery or mental health and employment.

“We’re going to move away from this warehousing model and put people in a big room and just keep them there,” said Cox.

Leaders hope the homeless will take advantage of these opportunities.

“For those people who are ready to turn their lives around, to get treatment, to get sober, and to get a job, we’re going to open the doors for them,” said Mayor McAdams.

If you’d like to help Operation Rio Grande, Salt Lake County Mayor McAdams encourages you not to support panhandlers. He says it’s best to donate to a well-known organization instead.

To learn more about Operation Rio Grande, click here.

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