Man who accepted drug treatment after first Rio Grande roundup says it saved his life

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - Monday marked one week since the state and Salt Lake City and County kicked off "Operation Rio Grande," an effort to get hundreds of people off the streets in the Rio Grande area, and into jail and treatment.

Now, a man who ended up in treatment during the city’s last intense roundup known as "Operation Diversion," is saying it saved his life.

Last September and October, the first and second phases of Operation Diversion ended with dozens of people entering treatment—just like what will happen with many of the people picked up by police last week.

Odyssey House said it anticipates taking in a large number of those people.

On Monday evening, current residents gathered in the dining room to hang out and catch up.

“How was work today?” Michael Cox asked another patient.

10 months ago, before sharing laughs and chatter with this tight-knit group, Cox said his life was going nowhere and he spent his days looking for his next fix.

“I was addicted to meth and spice,” he said.

Cox had been homeless for half a decade, and said he faced warrants out for his arrest.

He said he was trying to get out of that life, but didn’t have a way to do it.

“I felt hopeless,” he said.

Then, the city started up Operation Diversion.  During the crackdown, police gave each person they arrested a choice: Jail, or treatment.

It wasn’t until the second wave of the operation that Cox said someone from The Road Home shelter approached him to offer help.

“He was just like, ‘Hey Mike, I can tell you are ready for treatment. You want something different for your life?’” Cox recounted.

Several hours later, Cox was placed in the Odyssey House.

“We did have a large influx and the staff rallied around to make sure these people had everything that they needed,” Stephanie Young, Odyssey House Adult Residential Program Clinical Director said.

She said many of the people who entered treatment were able to blossom into healthy humans who now give back to their community.

It’s a rewarding, but grueling road that for Cox, included more than just overcoming substance abuse.

“I’ve learned coping skills, I’ve learned how to deal with anger issues,” he said.

Now, all these months later, he’s nearly ready to graduate.

“If it wasn't for Diversion, I would probably be in prison, or dead,” he said.

And he said he’s excited for what his future holds.

“I'll be working, I'll have an apartment,” Cox said.

For those now embarking on a similar journey through Operation Rio Grande, he said it’s amazing they'll have the option for treatment, just like he did.

“It's kind of a way of showing them the light,” he said, adding, “Showing them there is hope that you can have a future.”