Utah officials presented an update of Operation Rio Grande on Wednesday. That’s the initiative to crackdown on crime and drug activity in downtown Salt Lake City.
One of the presenters was homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson. She says despite beefed-up security in the downtown Rio Grande area and over 1,600 arrests over the past two months, homeless people there can still access services.
"There has not been a decrease in the number of people coming into the shelters. The Road Home had 531 single men that stayed in the shelter on Monday night, close to what it was last year. And just over 200 women," Atkinson says.
Atkinson says the arrests focused on criminal actors. She says now, vulnerable homeless people in the area are feeling safer.
This is the second phase of the program, which now focuses on treatment. A new specialty drug court has screened hundreds, Salt Lake City Police Chief Brown says crime is down and 61 new residential treatment beds have been created.
But getting the additional 180 beds by the end of the year to meet their goals depends on Medicaid money that’s up in the air from the federal government.
Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox says they expect to get it.
"We are getting nothing but positive [feedback] from the federal government saying it’s still on track. We feel like this is going to happen," Cox says.
But, he says, they’re also considering backup plans in case that money isn’t awarded.
Cox dismissed critics who reported increased panhandling and encampments around Salt Lake. He says more people are aware of what’s going on because of publicity around Operation Rio Grande.