You might call it the softer side of Operation Rio Grande — the law enforcement sweep begun last August to curb crime around The Road Home homeless shelter in downtown Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake County on Monday announced a $300,000 program to help homeless and drug-addicted people arrested in that ongoing operation to continue their recovery after their release from jail and initial drug treatment.
The funding from the state Department of Workforce Services will cover placing up to 150 people in post-treatment residential recovery facilities. There, they can live in a supportive environment with other recovering addicts for up to three months while they look for work and otherwise rebuild their lives.
Destiny Garcia was the first of 14 people placed under the program so far. Speaking to reporters at Monday’s announcement, at a sober-living house in Murray where she’s lived since Jan. 5, the 37-year-old mother of two was using meth and heroin and “running the streets” when she was picked up in the Rio Grande crackdown last August.
Her traffic tickets and a couple misdemeanor arrests for shoplifting landed her in jail. She’d been there a couple weeks when she learned she was eligible for in-patient drug treatment. She entered the program in early September.
Problems typically arise for recovering addicts when those treatment programs end. Often their only option is to return to where they lived before arrest, incarceration and initial treatment — where they can run into the same risks and “triggers” that fueled their addiction.
“This was a need that was identified as we saw people like Destiny who were successfully progressing through in-patient treatment,” Salt Lake County Major Ben McAdams said in announcing the program. “We didn’t want them to relapse.”
Finding transitional housing has always been one of the challenges faced by people like Garcia, Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes added. Hughes was one of the driving forces for the Rio Grande initiative.
“The public needs to know that this is again the continuity of what we started with Operation Rio Grande,” he said.
Monday was Garcia’s 163rd day sober. Joined by family members including her 18-year-old son, Isaiah, she teared up Monday recounting her gratitude for the help she’s received.
Her son is “happy and proud of her, because it’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I mean, look where we’re at today!”
The facility where she’s living will let her stay on after three months if she can pay her own way.
“I don’t know what that next phase is going to bring,” Destiny Garcia said. “I’m excited for it, though.”