Project Rio Grande Is Impacting Many Surrounding Communities

Project Rio Grande Is Impacting Many Surrounding Communities
Posted on 10/02/2017

By CHPD Chief Robby Russo 

Cottonwood Heights police recently hosted the Valley Police Alliance (VPA) to discuss Project Rio Grande, the increased police presence along the troubled Rio Grande street in downtown Salt Lake City. Although State Law Enforcement and Salt Lake City largely consider the efforts a success, several other municipal agencies had a differing opinion.  

The effort was well intended to stabilize the volatile neighborhood by targeting criminals through a sustained police presence while increasing services for the growing homeless population in the area. The problem is there are not enough detox, substance abuse and mental health treatment beds for those meeting the screening criteria at area jails. I’ve written before about the struggles the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) has placed on law enforcement.  When JRI passed two years ago, it never received the Medicaid funding required to make the program work. Consequently, and as predicted, the jails filled up and many among the population at Rio Grande have been deemed homeless but in reality, are drug addicts who need treatment but have no options.   

The new model Salt Lake City is undertaking calls for closing the Road Home Shelter, which can serve 1,000 people, and opening two shelters in the broader Salt Lake City area to each hold 200 people and one in South Salt Lake with a capacity of 300. So even before the new facilities are built, there is a deficit of 300 beds. Compounding the problem is that there are few resources for law enforcement or those truly wanting treatment. 

In the meantime, the population is being displaced into surrounding neighborhoods in West Valley, South Salt Lake, Murray, Cottonwood Heights and even as far south as Draper. The greatest impact is being felt by Utah Transit Authority police who are trying to keep their system safe and South Salt Lake because that is where the jail is located. Although the Adult Detention Center jail doors are open again, one shouldn’t accept the illusion that people are being held or transitioned into treatment. When defendants are released, the burden is placed on much smaller agencies like the South Salt Lake Police Department and Emergency Medical Services.

Although I am certain those spearheading Project Rio Grande don’t mean to displace the problem into other jurisdictions, the VPA group reported that homeless camps are popping up along the Jordan River Parkway. Proposals to move families into extended stay hotels in the suburbs also will not solve the problem. Needed are long-term solutions that address real needs and center around treatment.

CHPD is committed to keeping you safe and will continue increased enforcements in the area and arrest criminals. As a consequence of Project Rio Grande, you may notice an increase in panhandlers. Please don’t give them money; you’re buying them drugs to overdose. The money is better spent directly helping the Road Home to help those in need.