Advocates for the homeless discuss next steps after dozens arrested in ‘Operation Diversion’ in SLC

SALT LAKE CITY -- Nearly 50 people ended up arrested on Thursday in Operation Diversion, and they each had a choice: go to jail, or go to treatment.

A number of them chose treatment and ended up at facilities around the city like First Step House.

Dan Davidson waited outside the addiction recovery center Thursday evening to meet a couple of them. He knew their exact situation.

"I had an alternative to either go to jail or prison, or going to treatment," he explained.

Faced with the same choice more than two years ago, Davidson decided to get help. Twenty eight sober months later, his life is a different story.

"My life has changed dramatically," he said. "The opportunities that I've been given and the things that I've been doing, have been out of this world."

Davidson said he now has a job and apartment, plus he attends school at a community college and does volunteer work. He serves as a peer support specialist at Odyssey House, and he came over to First Step House to help out Thursday night.

Opportunities like his can be hard to come by.

Shawn McMillen, Executive Director of First Step House, said the wait list can run six to nine months. Operation Diversion cut that down by immediately opening up more than 50 beds between several different facilities.

"That's never happened before in this community," McMillen said. "It's profoundly different."

"I think the plan that they have is a great plan," Bryson Garbett said.

Garbett serves as president of the Pioneer Park Coalition and expressed that they're hopeful this will help the Rio Grande area.

But, he said it's about what happens from here.

"It will take an effort like this ongoing, I would think a year at least," Garbett said.

Salt Lake County Behavioral Health Services said social workers will continue outreach in the Rio Grande area beyond Operation Diversion, to work on getting more people into treatment.

For now, Davidson hopes to motivate those who show up at First Step so they too can change their lives and leave drugs, homelessness and life on Rio Grande behind.