Sheltering Houstonians in Historic Storm

Winter storms recently pummeled Texas, leaving millions shocked and shivering without electricity, heat and water for days on end. In downtown Houston, Midwest Maintenance’s commercial cleaning services assisted roughly 800 individuals who sheltered a week in the city-run George R. Brown Convention Center (GRB).

In mid-February, unprecedented arctic single-digit temperatures, snow and ice forced many Houston residents to huddle under blankets and scavenge for food, water and firewood. Roads closed to outside supply chains. Broken water pipes flooded homes and businesses.

A Shelter in the Storm

In the dangerously freezing temperatures, Houston’s homeless were particularly at risk. Houston’s mayor authorized the convention center to open as a warming shelter. The Midwest Maintenance professional cleaning services team serves Houston’s convention center year-round. The cleaning and janitorial services company works directly with Houston First, which operates the city’s top convention, arts and entertainment venues.

In preparation for the historic storm, Midwest Maintenance added emergency management duties to their normal customized cleaning services. Working with local emergency preparedness services is quite familiar to Midwest Maintenance. In 2017, when the GRB became a shelter for 10,000 evacuees during Hurricane Harvey, Midwest Maintenance dispatched 300 crew members to help.

For this winter disaster, Michael Kelley, the Midwest Maintenance general manager at the GRB convention center, quickly assembled a team of 20 that could work 12-hour shifts and be away from home for an extended stay.

Michael and the first work crew started Sunday, February 14. Midwest Maintenance’s commercial cleaning services made Valentine’s Day and the entire week much sweeter for many homeless Houstonians and residents without heat and running water in their homes.

“Initially, the GRB was going to be a warming shelter where people would just come in and get warm for a couple of hours and leave,” Michael reports. “But then the emergency management folks realized that was not going to work, so cots and more supplies were brought in. What started out for 200 people ended up for 800.”

Social Distancing Challenge

A temporary shelter was set up in Hall D of the 2 million-square foot facility, and cots were soon added to Hall C to accommodate more sheltering guests. About a dozen pets also occupied a separate space in Hall D. The Midwest Maintenance cleaning and disinfecting teams serviced these areas and where the contractors and support staff set up their own offices and kitchen. With COVID-19 precautions in place, everyone in the building wore masks and worked at maintaining social distancing.

“Trying to keep people socially distanced was one of our biggest challenges. And with 800 people wanting to use restrooms, the work is nonstop,” Michael explains. “You constantly have to clean the restrooms. You constantly have to vacuum carpet. Fortunately, we managed all these things well.”

While the rest of the Lone Star state was saddled with a failing power grid, the GRB never lost power. But the convention center did encounter a number of broken water pipes that required Midwest Maintenance to assist with damage control and cleanup.

“Some of the pipes that are on the roof got exposed to freezing conditions and those are the ones that popped. And then water started leaking through the building,” Michael says. “When the water main broke outside the GRB, it did not affect the GRB because we have a separate water main.”

Always Prepared

But the Hilton hotel next door, where all the emergency relief crews and Midwest Maintenance commercial cleaning services personnel were staying, lost water that Tuesday through Friday. The GRB then opened specific restrooms in the convention center for the hotel staff and guests to use exclusively. The Midwest Maintenance crews were prepared for the extra cleaning and disinfecting work.

Once the chilly conditions outside began to warm up and the storm refugees left, the Midwest Maintenance team wrapped up their emergency management work by that Saturday.

“We’ve always had a good team. With all the refugees coming in to get out of the cold, we took care of them like we take care of all our customers. Everybody was very professional,” Michael emphasizes. “Even under these conditions, if it got stressful for the refugees, we still provided excellent service. We always do.”