A new task force in Chelsea, HEART (High Risk Emergency Action Relocation Team) – a collaborative effort between the Chelsea Police Department, led by Chief Keith Houghton and La Collaborativa, led by Executive Director Gladys Vega – was tested immediately during this past weekend’s below-zero temperatures
Officially formed last week, HEART sprung into action on Saturday during a serious dip in temperatures.
“The day started off at negative-8 degrees, and we had smoke coming out of one of the furnaces [in a residence] and there was an evacuation,” said Officer Jonathan Maldonado. “When we responded [with the Chelsea Fire Department] to the scene, there were 17 people stranded outside the building, from ages 3 to 80, and three cats.”
“We were able to bring the residents to the station in our van, and ultimately we transported them to the La Colaborativa,” continued Maldonado.
Vega ordered food for the residents and arranged for transportation to a local hotel where the displaced residents were able to stay until the situation at their apartments was resolved.
Vega stressed that the task force’s reach will extend beyond relocation efforts. “This is about assisting our community in a partnership [with the Chelsea Police Department,” said Vega.
Norielez DeJesus, policy and organizing director at La Colaborativa, said the task force sprung from an idea “to get law enforcement and the community La Colaborativa serves to build a trust, and we were the vehicle of trust within this project.”
“The lens that we see it is, for the long-term impact to be we step in, we educate, and we connect them to the wraparound services at La Colaborativa,’ explained DeJesus.
Rosie Medina, a Chelsea Police detective who serves as president of the La Colaborativa board of directors, was instrumental in the formation of the group. “Rosie was able to guide us as to what services we should be tapping into at the Police Department to help us in our daily interactions with the people in need that we assist,” said DeJesus.
Vega said the proposal for a task force was actually hatched 20 years ago.
“We began to do this indirectly with the Chelsea Police Department two decades ago, with Police officers helping us with domestic violence work, mediation, and landlord-tenant issues,” said Vega. “In Chelsea, we have always highlighted that the Chelsea Police are a vital part of the community, they live in the city – and in order for us to enhance the quality of life of our residents, we all have to come together. Chelsea Police officers are always at our festivals and volunteering at our activities, and we highlight that partnership.”
Vega said that when Keith Houghton became the new Chief of Chelsea Police, “he said, ‘Let’s organize this, make this a real program, figure out the resources available, and assign police officers to the group.”
Houghton said he knew of Medina’s important leadership role in La Colaborativa before becoming chief but was not entirely aware of La Colaborativa’s breadth of experience in meeting the needs of residents in crisis.
“I was working the desk one night and [Officer] Jonathan Maldonado went out on a call for a domestic violence situation,” said Houghton. “Jonathan called and indicated that he was going to help with the La Colaborativa in relocating the victim. That was the day I said, ‘this [task force] is a great idea and we need to solidify with partnership with La Colaborativa.”
In what would likely be a first-in-the-nation initiative, Houghton is considering the deployment of Medina – in her role as a community detective – at a space inside La Colaborativa – and having police officers at the station [likely Officers Fernando Camacho and Jonathan Maldonado] serving as direct 24/7 contacts with La Colaborativa.
“La Colaborativa is a big part of the community and a core provider for a population that may not trust government, and that was the one missing link in our public safety policy, so this [HEART] wraps it all together. There has always been a connection [between the Police and La Colaborative, formerly the Chelsea Collaborative], and we’ve finally put together an effective, community service program.”