After first week of ‘Operation Rio Grande,’ leaders give update

SALT LAKE CITY - Addicted to heroin, Rachael Rubin found herself homeless in the Rio Grande district about a year ago.

"It was my intention to only stay there for a couple of months, but because of the environment and the availability of the drug I got stuck there," Rubin said.

Rubin was stuck, surrounded by drug dealers ready to feed her addiction.  "The sense of hopelessness was just really overwhelming."

That's exactly what homeless advocate, Pamela Atkinson, saw on the streets of Rio Grande just two weeks ago.

"There was sheer hopelessness.  What I see now after this past week and this week, I see hope in their eyes," Atkinson said.

Hope thanks to phase one of Operation Rio Grande, which in one week, has resulted in 420 arrests, 99 of which occurred over the weekend. Now comes phase two, which Salt Lake County Mayor, Ben McAdams, outlined in a press conference Tuesday.

"We are now ready to offer expanded access to treatment for those individuals who are struggling with mental health and substance use disorders, those who are ready to get help," says McAdams.

Phase two is all about giving the homeless access to treatment.  State officials announced that more beds will be available soon.  By the end of the year, there will be 241 additional beds spread out among several different treatment facilities in Salt Lake City.  There will also be a new specialty drug court to give people who are arrested quicker access to help.

"For the first time, clients will be screened for the program while still in jail and in under two weeks they will be connected to a structured, carefully monitored treatment program," McAdams said.

Treatment that often times turns into hope, the way it has for Rubin.

"I have hope for the future," Rubin said.  "I have possibilities and I’m just really excited to start a new life."

For people afraid Operation Rio Grande is going to lose steam downtown,  law enforcement made 39 arrests Monday, according to Department of Public Safety Commissioner, Kirk Squires.