Operation Rio Grande Update | November 2 | Medicaid Waiver | ID Cards

The Pioneer Park Coalition received the following email today from Utah Dept. of Workforce Services. To receive your own Operation Rio Grande updates, click the link at the bottom of the email.

Operation Rio Grande Update | Medicaid Waiver | ID Cards

Two significant events have occurred since the last update. First, the Medicaid waiver was approved for the state of Utah. Second, the safe space began requiring the coordinated service card for access into the area. Both of these developments are significant components of phases one and two of the operation. A lot of work from several partners made each of these achievements take place.

For more details, view the updates below:

Medicaid Waiver

On Wednesday, Nov. 1, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced its approval of Utah’s Medicaid waiver. This announcement is critical to phase two of Operation Rio Grande in order for more treatment centers to begin offering services for Medicaid members. For more information, click here. For the Department of Health’s Frequently Asked Questions document, click here.

Medicaid Waivers for Utah

Media Coverage:

The Salt Lake Tribune

Deseret News

Fox 13



Safe Space Courtyard

On Friday, Oct. 27, the Safe Space Courtyard began requiring the coordinated services card for access into the area. With fencing up, card stations ready to go, tent and tables installed, and staffing ready, the space began operations. So far, 1,475 coordinated services cards have been distributed with 192 of them being reissued cards.

Department of Workforce Services has coordinated closely with The Road Home and Catholic Community Services on card access points. With the opening of the Safe Space Courtyard, Workforce Services’ staff have made the point to listen to individuals receiving cards, find out concerns and make accommodations when appropriate.

ID Card checkpoint at Safe Space on Rio Grande Rio Grand Safe Space Rio Grand Safe Space in Salt Lake
Media coverage:


Law Enforcement
  • Department of Public Safety (DPS) continues to do outreach to people who live in the Rio Grande area and to neighboring communities. Three meetings have been conducted to answer questions, discuss any concerns and collect input. These meetings are going a long way with better relationships between law enforcement those utilizing services in the area. For a complete DPS update, click here.
  • Make sure to watch the DPS video about safer access to services. Click below:


Additional Updates

  • The next assessment day at the Salt Lake County Jail is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 9 for the purpose of identifying candidates for drug court. So far, more than 80 assessments have been completed with over 400 individuals screened. The retention rate for individuals who have successfully gone before the drug court is at 80 percent.
  • Cleanup efforts of encampments along the Jordan River Parkway and other known locations has resulted in more than 200 tons of garbage being removed. This week is the final week of clean up before the winter season. However, the team is currently working on a winter action plan.
  • Salt Lake County Health Department would like to thank all the volunteers and specifically the Utah Department of Corrections and the Utah Department of Transportation. Both played a vital role in the cleanup process.
  • Jordan River Parkway Cleanup

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Copyright © 2017 Utah Department of Workforce Services, All rights reserved.
The purpose of the email newsletter is to help you stay informed
on activities related to Operation Rio Grande.

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Utah Department of Workforce Services

Operation Rio Grande is Working | Op-Ed by PPC member Nicole Thomas

Operation Rio Grande is WORKING! That is the bottom line of the op-ed written by Pioneer Park Coalition member Nicole Thomas and published in the Deseret News October 5th, 2017.

Nicole Thomas, owner of Gateway Bridal in the Rio Grande area of Salt Lake City

Nicole is the owner and founder of Gateway Bridal & Prom and LatterDayBride & Prom. Her story in the Rio Grande area began almost two decades ago.

Gateway Bridal located in the Rio Grande and Pioneer Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City

Operation Rio Grande is WORKING!

Her op-ed begins,

“For over 18 years I have lived or worked in the Pioneer Park/Rio Grande neighborhood. In 2008 I moved my store at the time, LatterDayBride & Prom, to the south end of The Gateway, directly across from the homeless shelter.

While there I interacted frequently with those experiencing homelessness. There were regulars in the area I came to know well. Four years ago, however, I started to notice a significant change in the demographic of the neighborhood. There was an influx of criminals and those looking only for drugs.

I became more and more frustrated with the lawlessness that overwhelmed the neighborhood. If you did not see it firsthand, you will have a hard time believing how bad things became.

Unfortunately, too many of our community leaders came to accept the status quo or chose not to see it. They had given up on providing residents and businesses here with the same level of basic safety every neighborhood in Utah should have.

During this time my lease with The Gateway expired. While I didn’t want to move, I could not stay; the anarchy was simply too much. So last September I moved to a spot immediately north of Pioneer Park. It was not far from where I had been because I wanted to be part of the solution in helping this area thrive.”

Read the rest of Nicole’s fabulous op-ed on how those living and working in the Rio Grande and Pioneer Park communities have seen the positive change Operation Rio Grande has brought to the area in the Deseret News HERE.

To find out more about the mission of the Pioneer Park Coalition and how you can be a part of the solution, click HERE.

Operation Rio Grande Update | Salt Lake City | Pioneer Park Coalition

The following is an Operation Rio Grande email update received by the Pioneer Park Coalition on September 25th, 2017.

Intergenerational Poverty Update

Operation Rio Grande has been in place for six weeks. Phase one, which focused primarily on law enforcement, has been extremely successful in arresting dangerous criminals and disrupting the drug trafficking and usage in the area. The Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement anticipated the issue of encampments spreading to other areas and respond to every report that comes in of new encampments.For Public Safety’s latest report, click here.

Phase two, assessment and treatment, began a few weeks after phase one as new treatment beds came available. Additionally, a new specialty court began for individuals arrested from the operation to help divert individuals to treatment. Phase two is essential to the success of the operation and will continue as more treatment beds come available.

Next steps for the operation includes:

  • Opening the designated “Safe Space” for individuals seeking services in the Rio Grande area.

  • More treatment beds coming available resulting in more assessments and drug court appearances.

  • Continued clean up of encampments that have spread to other areas.

  • Building of the final phase, Dignity of Work.

This update is scheduled to occur weekly until all the three phases are fully operational and all the pieces are in place. At that point, the update will become monthly until there is no longer the need.

Operation Rio Grande Updates

Safe Space

  • Outreach continues to individuals in homelessness within the Rio Grande Area

  • ID card education will take place Sept. 25-29

  • Plans for opening the safe space

    • Oct. 2-6: Soft opening where the area is open to the public and cards will be distributed

    • Oct. 10: The safe space will go live where ID cards will be required for entry

  • Fencing and a shaded space have been installed

 Operation Rio Grande safe space update

Special Session

  • Two bills related to Operation Rio Grande passed overwhelmingly by the Utah State Legislature during the special session on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.

  • The Deseret News Editorial Board shared the following about the passing of these two bills.

Treatment and Recovery

  • Of the 37 treatment beds that became available on Sept. 7, all are now filled with individuals that were arrested as a result of Operation Rio Grande.

  • On Sept. 14, a new specialty court was announced to support the efforts of Operation Rio Grande. So far, there are 35 active drug court participants.

  • In October, another big assessment day is planned to connect additional eligible and appropriate individuals to this evidence-based structured court program.  Program participants will be linked to 25 new residential treatment beds opening at Odyssey House.

  • On Wednesday, Sept. 27, the Other Side Academy will be in the Salt Lake County Jail to educate ORG inmates about their vocational program.  The Other Side Academy is a two-year vocational, pro-social, life skills program where eligible students gain experience in a trade.  It is not a substance use or mental health treatment program.

Operation Rio Grande update in Salt Lake CityClick image for link to press conference at the Matheson Court House on Sept. 14


  • The Department of Public Safety continues to coordinate responses to encampment reports. Each report is taken seriously with a response team and cleanups are scheduled as needed.

  • The public are encouraged to call their local police department regarding any concerns of homeless encampments.

  • Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County meet on a weekly basis to coordinate cleanups for the week.  Last week, a large cleanup was conducted along the Jordan River (from 4000 to 4500 South).  Cleanup of encampments will continue this Thursday and Friday, Sept. 28-29.  Cleanups will continue to occur in other parts of Salt Lake City this week as well.

Dignity of Work

The plan for phase of three of the operation is coming together and will be shared the last week of October.

For more information, visit www.operationriogrande.utah.gov.

Utah Highway Patrol: A First Hand Account of Operation Rio Grande

Looking for an insiders view of Operation Rio Grande? These guys are out there day in and day out. Check out this great short video where the Utah Highway Patrol offers a first-hand account of Operation Rio Grande and it’s effectiveness.

UHP Troopers Give First Hand Account of Operation Rio Grande

“Operation Rio Grande is Saving Lives” by Pamela Atkinson

Longtime homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson says, “Operation Rio Grande is saving lives.” We couldn’t agree more.

Read More:Pamela Atkinson says Operation Rio Grande is saving lives


The Pioneer Park Coalition Applauds Operation Rio Grande

The Pioneer Park Coalition 

The Pioneer Park Coalition in Salt Lake City Utah



Neighborhood Residents, Businesses,     & Advocates Applaud Operation Rio Grande

Salt Lake City, Utah – August 17, 2017

Residents, businesses, and advocates of Utah’s Rio Grande neighborhood support efforts by the State of Utah, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, and other jurisdictions to combat lawlessness through “Operation Rio Grande.” This operation, which began Monday, is an effort to address crime in the area, while improving the provision of services to homeless residents, including children.

“We have grown sick of the ongoing violence in this neighborhood,” said Susana Clar, a resident. “Finally, we are beginning to feel safe again. I pray that these efforts will continue and that state and local governments are serious about maintaining this presence until this issue is solved.”

State and local officials have told the Pioneer Park Coalition that Operation Rio Grande is intended to last roughly two years and is focused on restoring public order and providing services to people experiencing homelessness.

“I commend law enforcement officials and our state and local governments for responding to our pleas to enforce the law here,” explained local business owner Tiffanie Provost. “We just want the same basic level of safety and decency that exists anywhere else in this state.”

“The children of the Rio Grande area desperately needed this action,” stated Dr. Clotilde Houchon, a long-time advocate for children experiencing homelessness in the area. “Having predators and criminals in the same spaces as kids was a recipe for disaster. I am also encouraged by the Operation’s emphasis on respecting civil rights and getting people the services they need.”

The Pioneer Park Coalition is an alliance of residents and businesses of the Rio Grande seeking to create a safe community and improve services for the homeless.

Operation Rio Grande Update

“We are in this for the long haul.”

Lawmakers and Law Enforcement provide an update to citizens on Operation Rio Grande

It’s a hot afternoon in the abandoned lower level of what was once Dick’s Sporting Goods at the Gateway Mall in the embattled Rio Grande neighborhood of downtown Salt Lake City. The room is filled with over 350 people, including many member of our Pioneer Park Coalition, anxiously awaiting an update on what has been dubbed “Operation Rio Grande,” a three-phase plan to eliminate lawlessness, assist the homeless, return the streets to a family friendly environment, and return businesses to a state of success.

Lawless activity, centered around the blatant drug trade, has plagued the area for years, with the Salt Lake City police department doing their best to combat the problem. Their best efforts, however, have been little more than a bandaid. Without a bigger plan, each “sweep” or “cleanup” of the area has lasted only a week or two before the bad guys moved right back in. Enter “Operation Rio Grande.”

Monday, August 14th, phase one of this 2+ year operation went into effect. Yesterday, August 15th, many member of our Pioneer Park Coalition joined residents, business owners, lawmakers, law enforcement, and other citizens to hear an update from those who have been in the thick of things, especially over the last 17 days. We were able to hear from Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Speaker Greg Hughes, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown, and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires.

While each spoke individually about specifics to their department, the underlying themes were the same. First, they are in this for the long haul. They are committed. Second, this is an unprecedented operation with commitment and integration on the city, state, county, and private level, with bipartisanship and cooperation. Why do we not see this type of operation very often, they asked. Simple: It’s hard. But they are committed to the operation and bringing the Rio Grande area back. Bringing people, business, and safety back. Third, they need the public’s help. This is a transparent operation and only with help from the citizens of Salt Lake City and surrounding areas can this be a success.

After the individual comments, the panel addressed specific FAQ from members of the audience. We as the Pioneer Park Coalition were pleased with the quality and thoughtfulness of the questions as well as the answers provided. Transparency and honesty prevailed and we feel like this is an amazing first step to an operation that will benefit us all.

A few Operation Rio Grande FAQ and responses:

Q: What are the specifics of the three-phase plan?

A: The following graphic was provided and gives a great overview of the plan, which will move quickly. The first phase started Monday August 14th and phase two will begin Friday.


Q: How can citizens report issues and/or perceived threats in their community?

A: For non-emergencies please call 799-3000. Use your camera on your phone. Take photos and send them to Salt Lake City police. As reports come in, a log is created, people are sent to those areas. In an emergency, of course, call 911.

Q: How will the physical clean-up of the Rio Grande area work?

A: A daily schedule of street-sweeping and cleanup will begin August 16th and continue indefinitely. As a “spidering” effect continues to move the homeless population to different areas and you feel cleanup is needed, please contact the SLC County Health Department.

Q: What is happening to the homeless people’s belongings if they’re arrested?

A: The Salt Lake Police Department is committed to treating every individual equally, including our homeless population. Items are inventoried and held until they can be returned to the owner. Additional personnel have been brought in to help with this task.

Q: What can individuals do to help?

A: Learn about the programs that are available and make donations to support these programs. Do not give to panhandlers, that is one of the biggest problems that we have.  It is now illegal to give (transact) with panhandlers in major thoroughfares. It doesn’t help people and is dangerous! Instead, give through and volunteer through SLCHOST.org.

Q: What are we doing to ensure the civil liberties of these people are protected.

A: ACLU associates are working closely with our government leaders. The Operation is very transparent. We are all working to ensure that those who are needing help are receiving the help they need and by not being forced to associate with those who are there for the wrong reasons.

Q: How has the homeless population responded to law enforcement being in the field?

A: As expected, responses have been mixed. Those with something to hide, who want to continue to live unlawfully without repercussions are obviously agitated. Others, those who have lived in fear and are victims of those who prey on the less fortunate, have expressed gratitude to law enforcement and others involved. The goal is that this gratitude will prevail and that we can feel that gratitude for years to come.

Q: What is the ongoing police presence going to be?

A: Once order is restored, we anticipated it will take much less much less man power to maintain the safety of the area.

Q: Employers have expressed concern as to how they can keep their employees safe as they come to work.

A: One of the greatest resources are the bicycle cops. Call 799-DNTN, and these police officers can address the concerns on a one on one basis.

The meeting ended with Mayor McAdams reiterating the end goal. This is a long haul operation. We must BREAK THE CYCLE! The criminals will serve their time and leave the jail with hope. Those who need treatment will receive it and leave without debilitating addiction. These people can regain their dignity, receive stable and affordable housing, obtain and retain jobs. And BREAK THE CYCLE. The homeless population is invited to come back to the area to receive services. It is safe for you here.

A huge thank you from us at PPC to all those who are sacrificing and working to make this dream a reality.

That is what this is all about, folks. We at the Pioneer Park Coalition are excited and committed to being a large part of the solution in Operation Rio Grande. Will you join us?