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Two years of Operation Rio Grande, leaders reflect on successes

(Credit: Paul Nelson)

DOWNTOWN SALT LAKE – What has worked and what hasn’t with Operation Rio Grande?  The controversial program was launched two years ago, Tuesday. Salt Lake County leaders are looking back on what has gone right, and what needs to improve.

Amy Daeschel calls herself a “participant” in Operation Rio Grande, although, she admits she participated in it after she was arrested in 2017.  Before she lived on the streets, she had a home and a family, but, surgeries led to drug addiction and her husband left, taking the kids with him.

Now, she’s coaching her friends how to escape the cycle of addiction, and she’s happy to watch them progress.

“I’ve seen multiple people that I’ve lived on the streets with in recovery,” she says.

She claims she asked workers inside The Road Home shelter to help her get into drug treatment several times before Operation Rio Grande, but, her requests fell on deaf ears.  After she was arrested, she was finally able to get into a rehab program, and she’s been clean since then.  Even though treatment worked well for her, she believes many homeless people need a lot more than that.

Daeschel says, “In treatment, you’re in a bubble-wrapped environment.  You have your schedule planned and you have your life planned and you have the support 24/7.  But, what happens after that?”

She and Utah’s Fourth District Representative Ben McAdams believe affordable housing still remains one of the biggest hurdles homeless people face.

McAdams says, “Housing prices are high, so, people leave treatment and leave to… what?”

Since the program started, 150 people have gone through its drug court program.  Plus, McAdams says many people have access to medical treatment that they weren’t getting, otherwise.

“Almost 4.400 people have enrolled in the targeted adult Medicaid program.  This has made them eligible for treatment and other services.  So, 2,500 people in Salt Lake County have accessed treatment since Rio Grande,” he says.