An Operation Rio Grande Success Story: Meet Fabian Yazzie
Every weekday, 49-year-old Fabian Yazzie wakes up at 3:30 a.m., hops on his bicycle, boards a train traveling to the opposite end of the valley and clocks into work at exactly 5:20 a.m. It's a long haul, but the formerly homeless Yazzie says it doesn't bother him.
He gets plenty of rest these days. Yazzie and his wife have a new apartment and, he says, a new lease on life.
"I've got a nice place to stay," Yazzie says. "Financially I'm okay. I don't have to worry about where I'm going to go eat or where I'm going to go sleep."
A year ago this week, law enforcement converged on Salt Lake City's downtown homeless shelter to crack down on rampant drug use and violence. Operation Rio Grande , as it's officially known, led to hundreds of arrests and displaced many homeless people to other parts of the state.
While the crackdown has its critics, it's given some people, like Yazzie, a chance at self-sufficiency.
Yazzie was one of those living at The Road Home shelter and working for a temp agency when Operation Rio Grande started a year ago. He enrolled in the operation's "Dignity of Work" program, attended four weeks of training in framing at Salt Lake Community College and is now employed at a building materials and construction company in West Jordan.
The shelter was hard in more ways than one, Yazzie remembers. It was noisy and he had to keep an eye on his belongings so they wouldn't be stolen.
Now, a huge weight has been lifted from Yazzie's shoulders over the last six months - literally. He no longer carries a bulky backpack filled with his personal belongings. That alone has done a lot for his self-esteem.
"You'd go into a store and people would follow you around because they would think that you were probably in there to take something," he says. "Now it's not like that. I don't carry around anything anymore, except for my lunch."
Ami Cragun, one of Yazzie's managers, says he is always well-prepared and eager to work.
"We just feel really lucky that we extended an offer and he accepted because we knew we wanted him from the get-go, the first time we met him," Cragun says.
It's stories like Yazzie's that state and local leaders hope to highlight Tuesday on the one-year anniversary of the operation, which is expected to cost taxpayers $67 million over two years.
Operation Rio Grande's Dignity of Work Program has helped around 92 people find employment since November, according to officials. At least eight of those participants, including Yazzie, earned certificates in framing from Salt Lake Community College.
"I know I can do this, and do other things I want to do because I proved to myself I can be self-sufficient again," Yazzie says.