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Officials, Program Alumni Mark 2 Years Since Launch Of ‘Operation Rio Grande’

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Officials marked two years since the since Operation Rio Grande launched in Salt Lake City. One woman who went through the program talked about the change it has made in her life.

The effort was designed as multi-agency response to drug and homelessness problems in the Rio Grande neighborhood – an area surrounding Pioneer Park and the old Rio Grande railroad station from South Temple to 500 South between State Street and Interstate 15.

It was a crackdown on the drugs and criminal activity, preying on the mentally challenged, that has plagued the area for years.

Amy Daeschel was among the hundreds of people who were arrested in that first wave.

She keeps a picture in her cell phone, difficult to view, that reminds her of how far she’s come. It’s of her on a bicycle, homeless, pulling a shopping cart of her possessions.

“Emotionally, I broke,” she said. “I was in such a darkness and hopelessness that you can’t even fathom.”

She has come a long way from being homeless, on drugs, and in and out of jail. She said she wants others to know there is a way out.

“It was only because of Operation Rio Grande that came around that saved my life. It’s the only reason why I’m here before you today,” said Daeschel.

She had already been arrested six other times and figured her latest arrest would be like all the others.

“I went back into jail thinking, ‘Okay, I’m down another six months,’ but it wasn’t like that this time,” she said. “This time, they brought in case managers, social workers, and they wrapped around us inside the jail, which had never been done before.”

Daeschel shared her recovery story with others gathered during a news conference along Rio Grande Street Wednesday to mark the two-year anniversary of the beginning of the operation.

“Operation Rio Grande saved my life,” she told the crowd.

Thousands have been through the programs offered by the Operation.

Instead of just jail time, those arrested are offered treatment and addiction programs, and well as mental health care.

“Many were not so happy,” said Christina Zidow, chief operating officer for the Odyssey House, an addiction recovery center in Salt Lake City. “But now, two years later, those individuals who came through our doors have told me or their treatment teams, ‘Thank you.’”

Rio Grande still isn’t perfect, but Daeschel said her story and others like hers are proof it is working.

Now, she’s clean, sober, and living on her own. She’s also working with an addiction recovery organization to help others who are in the same spot she was in.

“(I have) freedom that I’ve never known before,” she said.

Her current picture is far different from the woman she keeps in her cell phone.

“Hope is what changes people,” she said. “I show that picture to every single person that I meet with and be like, you can do it.”

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