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Operation Rio Grande Phase Two: More Social Workers To Gauge Needs Of Homeless

Whittney Evans

Local and state officials have moved on to phase two of Operation Rio Grande. The state has doubled down on social workers to find out what people need to become stable. 

The Community Connections Center operates as sort of a triage center for the homeless. It shares a block with The Road Home shelter. Lana Dalton is the social work manager here.

“If you just look out my window, there’s not nearly the amount of individuals that you would typically see on a daily basis out here,” Dalton says. “So there’s definitely not the camps that you would typically see. The population is decreased, at least on the external portion of the shelter for sure.”

Law enforcement focused the first few days of the operation on removing drug dealers and violent criminals from the area.

Now people like John Forbush say they feel comfortable coming down here for help. Three weeks ago he came to Salt Lake City to work and his truck was stolen with his belongings inside. He’s been homeless for a month. Staff at the Veterans Affairs medical center referred Forebush to The Road Home two weeks ago.

“I completely turned around and wouldn’t come down here,” Forbush says. “It was like the Night of the Living Dead here. And I got told today that they cleaned it up and I came down here and this is amazing what they’re doing now.”

Forbush has a lot of problems right now that are a barrier to him getting his life back together.

“I’ve got a paycheck in my wallet,” Forbush says. “I can’t even cash it because my ID got stolen. I can’t recover my ID until I get money to pay for my medical examiner’s card for my CDL. If I had that, I’d be back to work already.”

The social worker working with Forbush says she can help him piece things back together, even pay for a new ID.

Not everyone is happy with the first stage of the operation. The ACLU of Utah questions the focus on arrests and whether there are any substantive diversion options in the form of treatment. State officials say no treatment beds are immediately available for individuals arrested, but they’ll be available in the coming weeks. 

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