Utah leaders give progress update on ‘Operation Rio Grande’

SALT LAKE CITY — Elected officials from the State of Utah and Salt Lake County spoke Monday on the progress of Operation Rio Grande during its first six months.

The program, which launched in August 2017, is a collaborative effort to help homeless people and those with drug addictions find housing and employment,  and restoring public safety in Salt Lake City's Rio Grande area.

Operation Rio Grande is being carried out in three phases:

  1. Public Safety and Restoring Order - Improve public safety & order by reducing the crime rate
  2. Assessment and Treatment - Support people struggling with mental illness  & drug addiction so they can return to a path of self reliance
  3. Dignity of Work - Prepare & connect individuals to income that supports housing

The rate of crimes in the Rio Grande area has dropped significantly since the start of Operation Rio Grande. A graph released Monday shows crime dropped by 24 percent in Operation Rio Grande's first month, 19 percent in its second month, 26 percent in its third month, 36 percent in its fourth month and 13 percent in its fifth month, when compared with a three-year average.

Law enforcement officials have made more than 2,500 arrests in the Rio Grande area since August 14, 2017.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said some of the Phase 2 successes they've had so far include the addition of 199 new treatment beds around the Salt Lake Valley, with at least 50 more expected by the end of March. The treatment beds are used for people who need help with mental illness, substance abuse and detoxification.

Over 800 individuals assessed during Operation Rio Grande have now been enrolled in Medicaid - which includes coverage for behavioral mental health treatment.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski touted successes in Operation Rio Grande's third phase, the Dignity of Work program.

"Tomorrow we will see several people graduate from [the Dignity of Work program]. They all will leave with an opportunity for an employment interview and skills in the construction industry. Skills that make them very employable, especially in today's booming economy," Biskupski said. "We are focused on making sure there is housing, transitional housing, truly affordable low-income housing - all of the levels of housing opportunities are coming online over the next two years to ensure that people who are getting services through our resource centers have an opportunity to find a home as they transition out into the community and back to independence."