HPD’s special volunteer crew’s sweaty week of manual labor helps rehab Eastside house

It became a week-long police operation in Denver Harbor, drawing 35 HPD personnel on the first day. Each of the officers and brass worked as fast as they could to beat the heavy rains expected by the end of the week.

It many ways it sounds like an elaborate police investigation. But it wasn’t.

For the better part of a decade the Department – through an intensely volunteer effort coordinated by Assistant Chief Mark Curran – works with Rebuilding Together Houston to rehabilitate homes owned by handicapped senior citizens without the means and strength to do the job themselves.

Many HPD Participants

Curran has overseen the rehab of 17 homes since 2007 and worked at similar community services performed by police volunteers about 10 years before the project started by Mayor Bill White and Police Chief Harold Hurtt during White’s term of office.

Everyone from officers, civilian workers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains work side by side to perform all the needed work from tearing down molded walls to constructing wheelchair ramps and painting every room in the house.

The work doesn’t begin and end with just the basic sweaty manual labor, either.

The latest project in the 900 block of Henke required some elaborate electrical work that meant replacing every plug. Chief Curran was pleased with the fact that Sgt. Barry Baldrop was a licensed electrician before joining HPD.

Capt. Bill Staney over the Inspections Division was one of dozens of men and women in blue who put in some tough hours.

“I like to help the people in the community who really need it. Everybody just came together and worked well together. It’s fun but an awful lot of work. You come home sore and sunburned. But it’s worth it.”

Lt. Al Pitts of North Division also chimed in: “It makes me feel good to give back to the community and help those who are less fortunate. Also, it’s working together with officers we don’t get to see much except during these times.”

Initially Curran leads an assessment group that determines the needs of the homeowner, in this case an 83-year-old widow in a wheelchair. Heretofore her son had to lift her through the front or back door to get her to a vehicle.

No more. Curran’s crews – whose personnel usually varied day to day – constructed wheelchair ramps at both the front and back doors, making access much easier for Mrs. Irene Petry from now on.

“It’s kinda why we joined the police department,” Lt. Pitts said, “Because we want to help people.”

Like the others, Pitts didn’t mind the sweat and manual labor and opined that “it makes it easy when you got guys who know what they’re doing.”

The Houston Police Officers Union supplied lunches every day but one – when the Taco Bell truck made a special trip to bring out free lunches for the crew. The Union, represented by 2nd Vice President Joe Gamaldi and 3rd Vice President Tom Hayes, also made sure everyone had water and soft drinks to stay hydrated throughout the workdays.

Lt. Pitts, Chief Curran and the others particularly praised a master carpenter and HPD officer, Leo Flores (Auto Dealers Unit), who not only knows how to get the job done but graciously teaches the other volunteers the technics they need to get a wall up or door replaced, just to cite several examples of the needed chores to be done.

“We use treated lumber and always do front and back wheelchair ramps,” Staney said. “We have various levels of skill. There’s a lot of manual labor in it.”

On the last day of work, Staney said, “We had a very good turnout today – people to paint and finish the decking and general cleanup. We finished by early afternoon.”

Sore but Satisfying Work

  Curran called in some TACT team members to “vent” by tearing down walls or anything else that needed to be completely replaced, such as the front porch or the siding of the house. Reluctant to single out the work of any one individual besides the ever-reliable Flores, who has participated in each of the housing rehab projects. But couldn’t help but praise Teresa Wilson, a stable attendant, saying, “Three or four more of her and I’d be able to paint that house in a day.”

You can easily tell that the assistant chief is the son of social workers.

“Any time we can do something nice for the people of Houston, we should do it,” Curran said.

“We work under Rebuilding Together Houston, a non-profit that helps the elderly and handicapped with low incomes to fix up their houses.

“We usually do two a year, one in April and another in October. We’ve done 17 homes so far and they’re all over. We’ve done homes in Acres Homes, Sunnyside, Fifth Ward, Irvington Village and Independence Heights – usually in depressed areas where they don’t have the means to fix the house up like we do.

“I track them all, all 17 houses in the last almost nine years. The one we do in the fall will be the eighteenth. We missed only one due to (Hurricane) Ike.” ”

Officers often come and go throughout the day since they have their regular duty, caseloads and duties. This case was somewhat different, Curran explained.

“I think there was another family member that was there helping us,” Curran said. “I didn’t get his name. He was out there helping us. That was a change because none of the family members usually help us. He kinda helped us with a little bit of everything. He moved around and jumped in where he could.”

He was Charley Petry, the homeowner’s son.

Curran said, “It’s good to see the guys and ladies come together like this. It’s what we’re there for. They enjoy it. It’s fun to get out and do it. After you do it three or four days, your body tells you, ‘Hey, stupid, time to get back in the office.’ ”