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Father fights street drug use after son's overdose

Keenan Grimes Outreach Center is at the heart of East Knoxville. It offers shelter to those battling addiction.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Keenan was one of 293 people in Knox County who died from overdoses in 2017. Since then, the number of overdose deaths across the county increased drastically. In 2018, the suspected overdose deaths rose to 294, then 259 in 2019, 383 in 2020, and a staggering 498 in 2021.

Keenan's father is determined to do whatever he can to slow the overdose epidemic. His method is working.

Ira "Chip" Grimes gets in his white limousine two days a week. He fills the luxury vehicle with food, bottled water, a massive speaker and the sound of jazz. 

"Yeah, yeah it's gonna be all right," Ira sang, with the windows down. "He's coming back just like he said he would."

He drives the limo underneath the bridge on Broadway, which is one of the most well-known spots where people experiencing homelessness gather.

While many people may avoid this corner of town, Ira embraces it. He said it's full of people who have a deep need to love and be loved in return.

"We're leaving everybody out here to die and crumble," Ira said. "We say, 'Oh well, they're drug addicts, they shouldn't have got on drugs.' But, I don't see them that way."

He unloads the hot food, and water, and sets up the speaker. Before long, people gather. It's on this corner of Broadway that Ira found his passion for outreach.

"It's been a blessing because we just serve and serve and serve and people give and I just give it away. There's no there's nothing special about what I'm doing," Ira said.

However, there is something special about who he's serving in the name of.

"It's like God was preparing me for outreach with my son," Ira said.

Credit: WBIR

Ira's son, Keenan, was a dreamer. He always wanted to make a name for himself. But, Keenan struggled with opioids.

"I struggled with my son. We went around different places and I had to buy this and that, anything to get him to not want to take a pill," Ira said. "But, you’re gonna do all of that when it’s your kid, you know?"

Despite Ira's efforts to help his son detox — Keenan, who was only 26, overdosed on May 1, 2017. 

"When you're high, sometimes you want to come down, and then your next-door neighbor might have Xanax for $3 ... So, you go knock on the door, you take the Xanax and you die," Ira said.

Ira believes that $3 Xanax was part of a fraudulent batch, something that's common in street drugs.

"I'd have people give me their condolences for my son. And within 24 to 48 hours, I was giving condolences back to them. It's just how serious this problem is out here on the street," Ira said.

Once the overdose epidemic hit his own home, Ira decided to take a stand. He already owned a building outright off of Martin Luther King Avenue in East Knoxville. He converted the space into a center and began serving people through Keenan Grimes Outreach.

"Nobody deserves to experience this type of pain. It's written nowhere that a parent should bury their kids," Ira said. "But, I can put that pain into this."

The Outreach Center is a drug and alcohol intervention and resource complex. Ira said it's a place where he can listen and be friends with those who struggle with substance abuse involving drugs or who are potentially headed in that direction.

"What I'm doing has been very rewarding, and it helps my pain when we help people," Ira said. 

Ira said one of the worst situations is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction coupled with homelessness. The situation makes it even harder for people to break their addiction, because of the circumstances they're surrounded by. Ira offers people a warm, safe bed to sleep in while they're detoxing or trying to find a more permanent solution.

A little more than a dozen people can fit inside the center on any given night. 

Ira also said it's been rewarding to watch his outreach create concrete change in people's lives. 

He described the cycle of addiction as a revolving door. Some people have been through his center's program several times, but it only takes one successful attempt to fully quit.

Ira says that is what makes this type of work worth it.

"That feeling right that is just priceless to me that feeling is what I do this for," Ira said.

He hopes that Keenan's name will live on through the outreach.  Keenan's face is sewn onto a quilt inside the center as a nightly reminder to all who stay there.

Credit: WBIR

"I'm going to do this until the day I leave earth to be with him again. I love it," Ira said.

Ira operates the center with a budget of just $841 per month. That's why they depend on donations to help them meet their need.

Keenan Grimes Outreach Center is always accepting donations. Anyone can drop off food, clothes, shoes, water, bedding, or personal hygiene products at their building at 2461 Martin Luther King Jr Ave in Knoxville.

For monetary donations, people can give through the Cash App at $IraGrimes56.

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