Cruising down Cleveland Avenue on Columbus, Ohio’s east side, the poverty is tangible: broken bottles clutter weeded lots, graffiti-painted buildings and boarded windows decorate many of the structures. Perhaps most surprising, though, is the gray and red painted building with CRACK House emblazoned across the front.
Located at 1910 Cleveland Ave, the only crack this house deals is the message that Christ Resurrects After Crack Kills (get it? C.R.A.C.K.). Founded by Mitchell Ellison in 2000 as a part-time ministry, it has developed into a full-time occupation for the married father of six.
The vision of the CRACK House Ministries is to minister to people who are in need of recovery from addiction to both drugs and alcohol, specifically crack-cocaine. The organization seeks to build up addicts and help them find their identity in Christ.
Like many aspects of the ministry at the CRACK House, funding is also a step of faith each month. With only 50 percent of the monthly needs committed by churches and individuals, they often have to pray and wait and watch God provide. Though the account has dipped to below $5, God has always shown His power and provision.
“For me, a Christ-centered program is more effective because of my belief that we were created in the image and likeness of God, that he knows everything about us, and [a Christ-centered program] ministers to the whole man, body, soul and spirit,” Ellison says. “Just getting rid of the drugs and alcohol isn’t enough. Once you do that, there are a whole lot of issues that the Bible addresses.”
Redeeming the past
Some people are part of the problem; others are part of the solution. Ellison has been both, founding the CRACK House in the area where he did formerly abused drugs. His mission is simple in aim, complex in practice; the simplicity is to tell others of the freedom that came from a relationship with Jesus Christ, the complexity because the target audience is addicts.
“I really believe that I went through the experience [of addiction] so I can identify with people that are in it,” Ellison explained. “[Christ] brought me out of homelessness, brought me out of poverty, of addiction, of wrong thinking about who I am and who he is.”
The Cleveland Avenue building is used for Sunday and Wednesday services, Cocaine Anonymous meetings, and regular outreaches such as Fishes and Loaves, a bi-weekly grocery distribution and hot lunch program. In addition to doctors and dentists donating services, the CRACK House also offers one-on-one counseling on a variety of topics and often seeks to help recovering addicts find employment.
Also an integral part of the ministry are the three “sober houses” within walking distance that offering addicts a chance to escape the environment of their old life. Two to four men can live in the homes for up to a year. The men living there are required to work, attend Bible studies on Monday nights, and have a 12 am curfew. They pay rent when they are able.
Change beyond the addict
Addiction doesn’t only affect the addicts; the greater community and, specifically, kids, are often the innocent victims. As a result, the CRACK House has been expanding their outreach into the community, even more so than the food distribution. This has been a chance for many who live outside of Columbus’ east side to step out of their comfort zones and lend a hand to this summer’s Friday Night Movies for Kids.
Craig Caruso headed the program during the summer, along with his wife Colleen and many other volunteers. Well outside of their suburban comfort zone, Caruso and his small group took a step to put their faith in action.
“We wanted to do this instead of our bible study and try our hand at something very outside of what we are naturally attracted to,” Caruso said. “I know it is things like that that are going to make me not have all these preconceived notions [of what the neighborhood and the kids are like]. Most kids are similar, no matter what the background; on that level we related pretty well.”
In programs such as this, volunteers from the suburbs helped side-by-side with volunteers from the surrounding urban area, serving up a menu of movies, popcorn, chili dogs and crafts; whatever they could do to show the community some love.
“Kids always remember when someone has shown them love,” Ellison said. “Most of the times they don’t get asked “how do you feel”; no one sits and talks with them. That’s why it’s real big to know somebody cares.”
While the summer program went well, the hope is that this type of community outreach can blossom into something bigger. Having an opportunity where white and black community members can interact together to meet the needs of these kids is something that Ellison wants to see happen. If there are enough partnerships developed, the idea of an after school program where kids can learn about drug prevention, have fun and get tutoring is already germinating.
“Just imagine if you have some addicts working alongside you,” he said, speaking to the group of volunteers. “We call it giving back and the addicts and the alcoholics need to give back.”
The change that has happened as a result of the CRACK House is undeniable. It has restored families, given hope to people who have none, helped them gain employment, driver’s licenses and helped put stability back into their lives, Ellison said.
That humble building on the East Side is the place where people can step outside their comfort zones and start to give back; taking a step towards recovery surely isn’t comfortable for the addict and being in a place called the CRACK House probably isn’t comfortable for the suburbanite. But then again, the body of Christ is supposed to be transformational, not comfortable.
For more information, go to www.crackhouseministries.org