‘Political Insiders’ grade Operation Rio Grande’s first year

Operation Rio Grande, the extensive program to help the homeless in downtown Salt Lake City, marked its first year in existence last week. Our “Political Insiders” say the effort so far has either been a success or it’s too early to reach a conclusion.

The multi-jurisdictional program has cost the state more than $15 million so far, with more spending to come in the years ahead. That spending has not gone to waste, according to our “Insider” panel and readers.

  • 85% of the Republicans who responded to our question say Operation Rio Grande has been a success or it’s still a work in progress. 
  • 77% of the Democrats who gave us an answer say the efforts of ORG haven’t been wasted, with nearly 50% saying it’s been a success so far.
  • 63% of our readers said it’s too early to judge Operation Rio Grande, while 6% said it’s a success so far.


Selected anonymous comments:

My real answer is “all three.” On the one hand, the downtown area is certainly less unsightly. Walking through the Gateway Mall doesn’t seem to be as risky. However, I now notice many more encampments throughout the SL Valley that I never saw before. So, I don’t know if the “problems” simply dispersed or if there’s been a measurable decline in the criminal element. That said, I applaud our leaders for trying something. Because the old status quo sure wasn’t rectifying the situation either. But time will tell if we’ve actually made a dent in the bigger problems.

There will be successes and failures. The problem will not go away. It will just mutate.

Based on how bad it had become and how much progress has been made, I believe it has been enormously successful! Kudos to Greg Hughes and Spencer Cox for having the courage and compassion to step-in to help our most vulnerable population! There will always be critics. But there are no easy answers, and more has been done in the past 12 months to help our homeless population than all efforts combined in the past 50 years.

This effort takes time and should continue. I’m concerned that some of the problems are being shuffled northward and southward to cities along the FrontRunner line.

A harsher crackdown needs to occur. This type of behavior is not acceptable in the world we live in. We need elected officials with a spine.

Best initiative ever done to change the culture of homelessness in the State. Kudos to the Guv, LG, Speaker and Senate President for their outstanding leadership. Jon Pierpont from DWS must be recognized as a key player in helping those who need help to get back on their feet.

Too early to say but I am not impressed. Salt Lake has turned into a hellhole the last ten years.

Still too much of a focus on criminal justice solution; wrap-around services and permanent supportive housing more funding there versus DEA grant match (case management, case management, case management).

Outstanding success thanks to Speaker of the Utah House Greg Hughes.

To say it is a complete failure isn’t true. If the goal eased to improve that area alone, then fine. It worked I guess. But the effects have been felt all over northern Utah, specifically in Weber, Davis, Box Elder, and Cache counties. We have simply spread out the problem but focused funds only in SLC. Our agencies up north have been overrun with NO support as a result.

I’m very concerned with how it’s pushed the homeless to the river and other cities.

I am glad they are addressing this problem. It exists in every major city in America. We are about as pro-active in helping our homeless as anyone.

Operation Rio Grande is a lofty aspiration; however, I think that even though the downtown area has shown good improvement, not enough has been done yet. Something needs to be done with those homeless individuals that have relocated to other places. True, the crime has improved, but all people need to be safe, the homeless citizens and the citizens who live/work downtown and other places where the homeless seek relief. Remember, Salt Lake City/County is not the only place that deals with homeless individuals and families. School districts are impacted as well. Schools, with proper funding, could reach families through their kids in a very profound way. Ongoing funding needs to be given…not just “feel good” money. Politics must be set aside.

The lawlessness of Pioneer Park has dissipated, but too soon to tell.

Kudos to Greg Hughes for using the force of his office and personality to get something done. I didn’t see anyone else stepping up including SLC cops and elected officials. We’re going to see going forward that Utah’s approach to the homeless crises will be a model for the nation to follow.

With all of the homeless pushed all over the downtown area and to other cities, victory cannot be claimed. A lot of work still needs to be done to effectuate change.

UHP has done an incredible job.

It reminds me of when the exterminator comes to the neighbor’s house and chases all the rats away. Where do they go? To my house! So, we’ll see whose numbers rise. But hey, yay for Salt Lake City. What happened to our national awards on the housing of the homeless? In 4 short years, it seems we fell apart.

While more needs to happen to homeless demographic, it is exciting to see the community working together in a nonpartisan fashion. Every little step made has helped a person in need. Keep in the good work, Lt. Governor Spencer Cox!

The reviews are mixed. Some people were arrested, have gotten into treatment, are doing better, but not enough treatment beds, not enough social workers, and treatment specialists. Many homeless have moved to other areas, parks, and camps in the foothills, and on people’s lawns in once-safe neighborhoods. The effort should continue, but ongoing funding is critical, or the problem will explode again.

Although there is a long way to go, much has been accomplished. Greg Hughes and lawmakers deserve enormous credit.

Fewer beds for homeless and inadequate addiction treatment slots hurt the effort. I favor drug court, but longer term surveillance is important. Addiction is a long-term struggle for the people needing treatment. Long-term is years. I had a nephew who was clean for 2 + years while under surveillance. Within days of completing his program, he went back to using alcohol and has been at varies levels of inebriation for the past 18 months. Homelessness is a complex issue and is not always associated with addiction. Needs of the individual should be addressed.

The true failure is the cost associated with this program. SLC and the state could have used that money to provide a rental stipend to the several hundred homeless who cannot afford the first and last months rent, and security deposit when trying to move into a small one bedroom.

Some good, some bad, year two will be where we really get a sense of the impact.

It hasn’t diminished anything, just diluted it across the valley. Crime and homelessness have increased everywhere else.