The rapid pace of Operation Rio Grande has opened a whirlwind of chatter and misinformation. Some of the talk raises important issues to consider. Some, unfortunately, raises unfounded fears that the motives behind the actions are insidious, the results will be dire, or homeless individuals forgotten.
Among the more harmful prattle is the idea that Catholic Community Services (CCS) is leaving the area or will no longer serve certain clientele. As representatives of the Catholic Diocese and Catholic Community Services, we want to ensure our clients and the public, we are not going anywhere nor will we stop serving anyone who seeks our assistance.
The mission of the Diocese carried out through CCS is to practice gospel values of love, compassion and hope through service, support and collaboration. We have been doing so as CCS for 77 years and our Homeless Services celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. What began as a thrift store and free sandwich program has evolved to meet the community’s needs on a wide range of levels.
In fact, the three planned resource centers in Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake model what is already happening at CCS, though not in one building. At the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall, CCS offers hot meals and overflow shelter. Across the outdoor plaza at the Weigand Homeless Resource Center, we partner with agencies such as 4th Street Clinic and the University of Utah Medical School for health care, the Salt Lake Justice Court to resolve citations, the Downtown Alliance for community classes, Utah Department of Workforce Services to access public assistance programs and employment. We also rely on Salt Lake City Mission and numerous caring volunteers who offer haircuts, yoga, tai chi, gardening, self-help, art classes, additional support groups and many other services requested by our clients.
When The Road Home closes in 2019, CCS and other service providers, such as 4th Street Clinic and the Rescue Mission, will continue operating in the neighborhood. As long as low-income and homeless individuals tell us they need a free meal, a warm heart, computer access, job placements, housing, health care, a laundry to wash their clothes or just a warm, welcoming place to rest for a while and feel human again, we will serve.
We will also continue to maintain client safety on our property through identification cards that help prevent criminals from preying on the hundreds of individuals we are honored to serve each day. For us, client safety means people on our property feel valued as individuals, safe from harm and know that we will protect their personal information from improper use.
On the other hand, we have never asked for any identification cards of any kind for people seeking a meal at St. Vincent de Paul, and we will continue to provide open access to this basic necessity.
Operation Rio Grande has made a positive and dramatic change. Our clients have expressed appreciation and relief at being able to walk without fear to The Road Home, 4th Street Clinic and Rescue Mission. The operation is not perfect and there are flaws still to remedy, but the unintended tidal wave of rumors that stoke the fears of the people who live in the area and those that care for them must be quashed.
Those who continue to spread misinformation cause far more harm than they may realize, encouraging people to forego needed and available services.
We encourage anyone with questions about our offerings in the area to contact us and ask. Better yet, come down to the Weigand Center or St. Vincent de Paul and volunteer! We assure you, we will be there, and we would welcome your help.
Matt Melville is the homeless services director for Catholic Community Services of Utah. Jean Welch Hill is the government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.