Bitter cold brings out the best in Catholic Charities housing staff

Personnel help residents of housing units through recent extreme weather

By Matthew Roddy
Special to The Witness

Catholic Charities Housing owns and operates 209 apartments of affordable housing in 12 buildings in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Many of the residents are elderly or disabled, and the loss of vital services like heat, water, plumbing, and electricity, can literally mean life or death. It can also mean huge costs repairing pipes, radiators, and remediating water and mold damage.

Not to worry! Our super team of management and maintenance staff sprang into action as soon as we saw the forecast. Most of our properties are equipped to handle 10 degrees below zero, but 29 below is way over the edge, and sure to expose any weaknesses. Matthew Roddy, director of housing, generated a to do list on Sunday and issued a directive to cancel all normal operations and spend Monday and Tuesday preparing for the Arctic Vortex.

Special notices were distributed to the residents, advising them to be careful, and to inform us immediately of any doors or windows not shutting completely. We asked them to report any plumbing or water not working and any rooms that weren’t heating properly. Thermostats were cranked up by maintenance staff, and boilers were checked twice per day at Kennedy Park West. Vacancies were monitored by Pat Husemann, maintenance foreman for Kennedy Park West, and Aaron Gerrard, the site manager, to make sure heat was on and that apartments were sealed.

At Heartland East, Dianne and Paul Brady, who serve as the site manager and maintenance contractor, went door-to-door checking on residents and running water so that it wouldn’t freeze in the crawl space beneath the buildings. Aaron Wenzel, maintenance mechanic for Ecumenical Tower, made sure he had extra heating units on hand and that the heating systems in the attic were working properly. He monitored the exterior doors and adjusted closers. Kayci Schumacher, site manager for Ecumenical Tower, posted notices and checked on the frail and elderly.

We drew on the expertise of Aaron Gerrard, our Site Manager from Alaska, for a variety of personal safety tips to protect ourselves against the weather. Kayci Schumacher returned from vacation in Mexico on Sunday just in time to dive into preparations at Ecumenical Tower. First on her list was to take her vehicle in for some repairs so that it would run through the cold snap.

Matthew played command center and kept in touch with everyone through the two days of record-setting cold. (I know. I had the easy job!) A number of housing and other Catholic Charities staff reported to me that they were praying for the properties and the residents. I certainly was. Thanks for those prayers. They made a difference, especially on Wednesday night when I was up most of the night, praying and waiting for the dreaded call ………. that ……….. never ….. came.

Two hundred and nine apartments in 12 buildings with seven dedicated staff, all of whom showed up for work both Wednesday and Thursday, the coldest two days of the 21st Century. Not a single furnace or boiler shutdown, no frozen pipes, no heat calls. I thank God for his mercy, and for surrounding me with such talented, caring and dedicated staff.

Roddy is the director of Catholic Charities affordable housing ministry.



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