Phase 3 of ‘Operation Rio Grande’ focuses on job training for homeless population

SALT LAKE CITY – Phase 3 of Operation Rio Grande is underway, and it focuses on getting homeless people off the streets and into the workplace.

The idea behind the program “Dignity of Work,” is that when you give a person struggling with homelessness a job, you give them back their dignity.

“I was an addict: Homeless and unemployed for many years,” said Maurice Egan with The Other Side Academy.

Egan brings his real-life perspective to the group heading up the program.

“Historically, we looked at homelessness and drug addiction as a one-stop shop," Egan said. "We'll do this one thing and it will be solved."

At a press conference Thursday, the group stressed the need for a long-term approach. Steve Starks, President of Larry H. Miller Sports and Entertainment, is leading the charge.

“As we've gotten into this, what we haven't wanted to do is win a press conference," Starks said. "Stand up here and announce a bunch of things that never have any follow up to it.”

They’ve assigned four employment counselors to help people land a job and say investing in people gives them valuable skills, but more importantly confidence.

“Once I got into the work flow, showing up on time, being accountable and becoming self-supportive, I began to believe in myself again,” Egan said.

The group also announced plans to change the daily habits of the homeless. In December, they’ll offer inter-faith based, morning devotionals, and job training workshops.

Egan said if core issues such as drug addiction, mental health, and homelessness aren’t addressed, they run the risk of creating a revolving door model.

“Housing, employment, and a team of coaches and counselors were available to me until I was strong enough to make it on my own," he said.

The team is asking businesses to help them provide jobs for the homeless. So far, 50 businesses are on board, including Okland Construction. They’ve committed to hiring 10 people next week for a construction project.