Grant Denton is a “man about town” superhero who is a recovering addict and an ex-convict who was formerly homeless. He is the executive director of the Karma Box Project (www.karmaboxproject.org); we chatted with him in this space back in October 2018 about karma boxes—community food and toiletry pantries his group has placed around Northern Nevada. We decided to catch up with him again to talk about the Karma Box Project’s newest effort: Safe Camp.
What is the Safe Camp, and what exactly is its primary goal?
Safe Camp is on the grounds of the old Governor’s Bowl baseball field, next to the Spaghetti Bowl. It is a referral-based program to move people off of the streets and into housing. It offers a safe environment to start a new life.
To enter the Safe Camp, what are the requirements folks must meet?
One of the requirements is that you must work on a housing plan. We have a case manager who can help you with this, and it starts with documents, IDs, Social Security cards and verifying income. Many are receiving some form of disability assistance. Also, are you employable? Most are not due to a physical disability or mental-health diagnosis. And most importantly, (people at Safe Camp need) a willingness to change the course of your life.
What is one of the most challenging obstacles people face when transitioning from being on the street to living in housing?
Taking someone from the street and putting them in an apartment is one of the most challenging things when it comes to behavior modification. The social norms on the street are far different from the norms of quiet apartment living with neighbors. They have to be cognizant of their footprint. How is their behavior affecting the neighbors? It takes a lot of learning and a lot of soft life skills. Bad behaviors are things that get them kicked out of their apartments.
What do the count totals look like for you at the Safe Camp, as of our mid-May chat?
Right now, there are 44 people at Safe Camp; 82 people in total have enrolled at Safe Camp. Twenty people have moved into permanent housing. The Karma Box Project employs four people. The number of pods at Safe Camp is 45. The average length of stay at Safe Camp is six months, and our success rate is 50 percent.
Your face is all over the place, from television advertising to a huge billboard located next to the Safe Camp. How does it feel to be known and recognized all across town?
Yes, that is my face on that billboard. One of the people who stayed at the camp said that it seems as though my eyes are constantly following them. They said it was like Jesus keeping an eye on them. You’ve probably seen that painting of Jesus where his eyes follow you as you move around the room. They think they have to be good citizens, stay in line and keep it together, because I am watching them.
How is the Karma Box Project going today?
Karma boxes are decorated boxes that are placed around local businesses. These boxes are filled with goods that the homeless can use. People can use the canned foods, sometimes fruit, and the personal items inside, like first aid kits, toothpaste, toothbrushes and writing supplies. Donations are always welcome. We have more than 55 boxes located in Northern Nevada, and three in Las Vegas.
When you were at the deepest, darkest days of your addiction, did you ever think you would be doing what you are doing today?
I always thought that I would want to “go out” saving someone and be a hero, and that would be my legacy. I always wanted to jump out into traffic and save an old lady or a kid from getting hit by a car or something, and I’d die saving them. But now I am saving people with what I’m doing today.