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Business owners have mixed feelings 3 weeks after 'Operation Diversion'

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Three weeks have passed since an operation was announced that targeted addiction and crime among the homeless in downtown Salt Lake City and businesses in the area said Thursday they’ve noticed a difference on the streets in the Rio Grande area since that time.

“It does feel thinned out – there is definitely a smaller crowd,” said Josh Loftin, spokesman for the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, which is housed inside the Rio Grande Depot.

Police said since Sept. 28, “Operation Diversion” has netted more than 130 arrests across three phases.

Previously, officials have said nearly 70 percent of the people arrested had chosen treatment over jail.

“Some of them did actually go back to jail after they walked away from those programs,” Salt Lake City Police Det. Greg Wilking said.

Neither city nor county officials could immediately furnish exact numbers Thursday as to how many of the arrestees were still in jail, in treatment or had been re-arrested.

The officials said those numbers fluctuated regularly.

Wilking said police, city and county leaders were evaluating the program, which offers most arrestees immediate treatment options for addictions and mental health.

“[We’re looking at] what we could do differently, what we could do better and move forward from there,” Wilking said.

The entrance to the parking lot north of the Rio Grande Depot was under construction Thursday.

Loftin said crews, with the help of some state funding, were installing a security arm to better control traffic in-and-out of the lot.

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Previously, Loftin said people had been accosted in the parking lot and a regular flow of cars had been passing through, presumably to obtain drugs.

“Drug traffic — yes, they were coming out there,” Loftin said. “That’s generally, I think, what it was.”

Pete Henderson, owner of Rio Grande Café, had encountered numerous problems outside his business over the years and in recent months, and he said Thursday he was appreciative of the efforts by police.

“Yes, there’s been a change and an improvement, but it’s nowhere near what we need,” he said.

This week, the Salt Lake City Council set aside roughly $30 million for affordable housing and new homeless resource centers.

Henderson said he’s skeptical those things will ultimately make a difference to the neighborhood around him either, and more has to be done beyond Operation Diversion.

“It’s not a fix,” Henderson said. “It’s not a fix for the homeless people, and it’s certainly not a fix for this neighborhood.”

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