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Honoring the House of the Crossroads

Honoring the House of the Crossroads at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the Hill District Federal Credit Union

*Submitted by LaKeisha Wolf, board member, with support from Ms. Terri Baltimore and excerpts taken from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article “A Life on the Hill: The journey of Sala Udin”.

Earlier this year, The Hill District Federal Credit Union purchased 2012 Centre Avenue, and

adjoining side lots as a part of the credit union’s plan to expand its footprint and better serve its members and Hill District community.

While the existing building will be appropriately and safely razed due to deterioration and

dilapidation, the credit union board felt it incredibly important to take the time to acknowledge and honor this space that has been a beacon in the lives of so many Hill District residents and families. 2012 Centre Avenue is known historically as the House of the Crossroads, a mental health organization, founded in 1971.

In the late 1960s, narcotics sucked the life from all levels of the Hill District. SalaUdin could see it on street corners, in stores and clubs -- addicts leaning against walls, their heads nodding and drooping down. Heroin had always been in the Hill, but moved from the fringes and began to affect many more. Addicts now were brothers and sisters, parents, uncles, and so many more we loved. Sala and others grew alarmed at the impact they saw drugs having on the community and embarked on an unofficial operation called “Off the Pusher, confronting individuals in the street but later recognizing that they were up against something bigger and stronger than what they could manage in the way that they were going about it.

They discovered another method through an organization in NY called Phoenix House. There, former addicts stayed sober in a very structured environment that relied on work and

encounter sessions. So Sala and a friend, Jake Milliones, spent a summer at Phoenix House,

learning to set up and operate what was called a “therapeutic community”.

Next, they needed a building in the Hill to house the therapeutic community- The best option was a three-story brick structure squeezed between a basketball court and the Zone 2 police station on Centre Avenue. The place was notorious as a drug den.

One day Sala and Jake and a few others from an organization called the Afro American Institute marched into the building and announced, “We’re here now, we’re going to turn this into a treatment center”.

The building was a dump, and making the space usable was going to take time. But overtime, former addicts worked with them to fill garbage bags, replace flooring, paint, replace plumbing and electrical supplies. They started on the first floor, at the front of the building, and worked their way back, room by room.

They named the residential substance abuse treatment program Ile Elegba, after an African

deity who stood at the crossroads between life and death. Once accepted into the program,

users adhered to a rigid schedule in a drug-free environment. The program used “encounter

sessions” -- loosely structured group therapy conducted three times each week. In these

sessions, residents discussed their frustrations and were confronted in love and accountability when they broke rules. It was an effort to prepare former addicts for a return to the community.

Sala, serving as the program’s executive director, felt it was important to bring an awareness of politics and policy to Ile Elegba’s residents. They celebrated the birthdays of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and participated in Civil Rights demonstrations and marches. Leaders at Ile Elegba were careful to discuss with residents the issues being addressed and what they meant to the Hill District community.

The city eventually assumed ownership of the building on Centre Avenue and sold it to Ile

Elegba Incorporated. After months of work, a place once reeking of death and decay took on new life. It was a massive reconstruction project – and the work was completed largely by those who once seemed destined to accomplish nothing due to the depths of despair addiction causes.

Hundreds, if not thousands, found recovery through the House of the Crossroads.

Today, the Hill District Federal Credit Union honors all of those whose efforts built House of the Crossroads into a culturally responsive community of healing and transformation in the Hill District. We acknowledge that much like the story of our own founding, it is only through an insurmountable love of people, acknowledging the God and good in our people...with

persistence and dedication, we can build anything we need to serve the greater good. And

while the building unfortunately will not last forever, the life-changing relationships and

spiritual, psychological and physical well-being that was birthed and nurtured at House of the Crossroads for OURcommunity,-those memories and realities, are eternal.

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