The Crack House in Denver: Counseling is About Change

I stood staring at the Victorian apartment house in front of me. I could feel eyes peeking at me from behind the smudged curtains and broken blinds. I knew if I didn’t get moving quickly someone would come out and ask me if I was a cop or a social worker. The dress code at the Denver non-profit community center where I worked always placed me in one of these categories, neither of which was welcome. Over the past few months I had developed a victim services program to offer the residents of this particular neighborhood in Denver. A community with high crime but low reporting rate, the DA’s office was hoping to offer counseling and services to people falling through the cracks.

Recently a woman from the community was talking to a friend in California who had a daughter living in the neighborhood. The daughter had two girls of her own, and the grandmother was worried about them. Could I help? I found someone who knew someone else who got me in touch with the daughter. She was happy to hear news from California and invited me to her home. What she didn’t mention was that she was addicted to crack, living with her abusive drug dealer, and trading sex for drugs.

All of this was going through my head as I stood paralyzed on the sidewalk. I took a deep breath, found her apartment and knocked on the door. A hulk-like man in sunglasses answered. After I shared who I was and that I brought news from the girls’ grandmother, he moved aside and gestured me in. Shortly I was sitting on the balcony, drinking iced tea, and listening to the daughter and girls chattering away about their lives. We began planning how the girls could go visit their grandmother to give their mother time to “pull herself together.”

One myth about counseling is that it’s always touchy/feely, people crying in cozy offices drinking herbal tea. The truth is counseling’s about change, which can happen anywhere at any time; we just have to be up for the challenge.