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Volunteers turn Victoria apartment building into housing for youth

For the past two weeks, the corner of Davie Street and Oak Bay Avenue has been a hub of community help and fast-paced construction in a massive effort to create housing for the capital region’s homeless youth. “It’s been wild,” Paul Latour said.
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Ron Krachenfels cuts lumber as part of the Hero Work effort to renovate an apartment building at Oak Bay Avenue and Davie Street.

For the past two weeks, the corner of Davie Street and Oak Bay Avenue has been a hub of community help and fast-paced construction in a massive effort to create housing for the capital region’s homeless youth.

“It’s been wild,” Paul Latour said.

The founder of Hero Work, a local organization that helps non-profits with renovations funded and powered by the community, was standing outside the four-unit apartment building donated to the Threshold Housing Society a few months ago. Threshold is a non-profit society that provides supportive and semi-independent housing for youth, ages 16 to 21, who are at risk of homelessness or in government care.

The anonymous donor wanted the $725,000 building to help those in need, but the building needed a complete makeover. That’s where Latour’s program came in.

“This is much more complex than anything I’ve done,” said Latour, who co-ordinated the renovation of the Mustard Seed Food Bank last year. “It’s a lot more technical, with major construction.”

He managed to bring together 90 contractors, 90 businesses and more than 300 volunteers to work over three weekends this month to finish the task.

“You don’t always see tradespeople working together side by side like this. There’s so much co-operation,” Latour said Sunday as a group of young people shovelled dirt at the front of the building. Meanwhile, contractors worked out a tricky stair installation and others painted the walls inside.

Latour said the renovation would not have gone ahead without major heroes along the way. The City of Victoria helped with permits when surprise issues came up, a construction company brought its entire team when work fell behind schedule, and groups of volunteers — including navy officers and Home Depot workers — showed up to lend a hand.

“The church across the street [Oak Bay Gospel] has been incredible. Parishioners came over after service to help,” said Latour, noting the church also has given the project ample space inside and out to use.

Mark Muldoon, executive director of Threshold, has been at the site, helping co-ordinate staff and youth. The organization plans to place eight young people in the building through its semi-independent housing program. Who will move in hasn’t been decided, but Muldoon said they have about 147 referrals.

“Finding the right combination of people who can live together is important,” said Muldoon. His organization is also considering the possibility of offering housing for youth who are couples or have children.

The renovation project has been exciting for the organization, as it nearly doubles its capacity.

“But we also have to think about the ongoing costs,” Muldoon said, noting Threshold might still need household goods and volunteers to help with gardening. “The biggest issue right now is food security. We are always struggling to find food for the youth.”

The Threshold community makeover continues next weekend. The big reveal is to take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Everyone is welcome.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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