MURRAY — Six months ago, Destiny Garcia said she was "running and gunning" on the streets of Salt Lake City, shoplifting to support her 10-year heroin and meth addiction.
On Aug. 21, that all came to a screeching halt when she became one of now nearly 3,000 people arrested as part of Operation Rio Grande, the effort to end the lawlessness in the troubled downtown area surrounding the Road Home homeless shelter.
Garcia, 37, was arrested for outstanding warrants on 12 outstanding traffic tickets and shoplifting charges. The arrest made Garcia angry — but she said she had no idea how much it would change her life for the better.
Fast forward several months, Garcia says she has been sober for 163 days, she has a roof over her head, no outstanding warrants, and she is back in touch with her family and children.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me," she said Monday, choking back tears.
She told her story to a room full of reporters while standing in the living room of the Murray house she moved into three weeks ago — a transitional home owned and managed by Sober Living Properties, with three months of free rent.
After completing Salt Lake County's specialty drug court and four months of addiction treatment at Odyssey House, Garcia qualified for another new sober living housing program in Salt Lake County, officials announced Monday.
Garcia said the programs saved her life and reunited her with her children, whom she said she chose to stay away from her while she was addicted to drugs.
"I honestly don't know where I'd be without this stepping stone," she said, adding that she's living in an environment that keeps her life structured and accountable, with several other women who understand "how hard it is."
Garcia's 18-year-old son, Isaiah Garcia, said he's "so proud" of his mom.
"I worried about her every day" while she was on the streets, he said.
The county's new program is meant to place people taken from the streets by Operation Rio Grande who have completed addiction recovery into the next phase — safe and affordable housing.
"As partners, we all recognize that the journey from addiction to sobriety is a marathon, not a sprint," Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said.
The new pilot program is estimated to assist at least 150 people with three months of rent in residential recovery homes, said Noella Sudburry, McAdams' senior policy adviser on criminal justice.
"Many of the clients arrested and jailed during Operation Rio Grande were homeless as a result of their behavioral health issues," McAdams said. "Even if they complete their drug treatment program, many will still struggle with living arrangements. … We wanted to give them a living environment that's supportive and conducive to their continued healing."
To qualify, clients must be actively participating in Operation Rio Grande's specialty court program, complete a community residential treatment program and graduate from the Salt Lake County Jail's Correctional Addiction Treatment program.
Eligible clients receive vouchers for up to three months of paid housing support. A three-month voucher pays up to $2,000.
The program is funded by $300,000 in one-time money from the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Sudbury said if the pilot program yields successful results, county officials will look to request funding to turn it into an ongoing initiative.
"We're hopeful that we'll either receive permanent funding from the state and maybe county funding, but we'll look to see what the data (shows)," she said.
Sudberry acknowledged that three months isn't a long time to find a job, but she noted most of the clients will have already begun working with an employment counselor by the time they move in.
"Let's see how this goes," she said. "We won't have a 100 percent success rate, but I think we will have high success."
Garcia said she's hopeful she'll be able to pay her rent — $800 per month — on her own after the program ends in about 2 ½ months, noting she's been working with a counselor to find a job.3 comments on this story
"I think I can succeed," she said. "I love it here."
As of Monday, 14 clients had already been placed in a sober living home, according to Sudbury.
As part of the program, the county has partnered with seven sober living home providers so far, including First Step House, Foundation for Family Life, Odyssey House, Sober Living Properties, Wasatch Recovery and Legacy Management Properties LLC, which have residential treatment homes in neighborhoods throughout Salt Lake County, including Sandy, Draper, Murray and Salt Lake City.