Right now The Cove has mouldy bathroom tiles, ripped furniture, chipped walls, drab paint, ugly window coverings and bad lighting. For one, Paul Latour doesn’t like what he sees at the shelter in Whalley. He’s here to fix it, and needs some help.
Latour is the Victoria-based founder and CEO of Herowork, a charity that does “Radical Renovations” of charity buildings with the help of community volunteers and donations.
Surrey Urban Mission’s Cove facility is where Herowork’s next “transformation” project will take place this fall, Sept. 20 to Oct. 3.
At King George Boulevard and 106 Avenue, The Cove is a transitional shelter for men and women. Herowork’s goal is to transform the building and help transform the lives of 42 people who live there — some temporary, some long-term.
“It takes a community to rebuild one,” said Latour as he toured The Cove with Amber Neufeld, director of development for Surrey Urban Mission Society (SUMS).
The reno project is detailed in a five-minute video on the website surrey.herowork.com, where volunteers can sign up.
Over a two-week period the building will be fixed up, painted and otherwise improved in a project valued at up to $150,000, according to Latour’s estimate.
The video includes interviews with “vulnerable community members” who live at The Cove, which offers hot showers, laundry, meals, overdose prevention and “community connection” services, the website notes. “But it is also unsightly for the neighbourhood and needs a transformation to better serve clients as they transition to recovery and permanent housing.”
The building has separate dorms for men and women, with bunk beds for all. None of the “guests” will be displaced during the renovation work, according to Neufeld.
“We’re hoping they’ll be involved as much as possible,” she said. “Paul has been here already asking people what works for them, what do they want to see happen. This is home for some people, and we want to have as little interruption as possible.”
The place needs a sense of home and belonging, a sense of dignity for those who stay there, Latour said.
“These guys (SUMS) do amazing work, but that work is not reflected in the state of this building, and that’s why we’re here doing this renovation work. And when the community comes together like this to make that happen, it gives the project extra meaning.”
The Cove was a motorcycle shop before it became a shelter about four years ago, Neufeld noted.
“This renovation is very needed here, and it’s going to be a beautiful space for people, a nice place for them to stay,” Neufeld said. “It’s so hard to find funding and time and energy, and having Herowork come do this is a huge blessing for us.
“We know that when people are proud of where they are, then they can start to heal and find hope,” she added. “But if the place is falling apart and there are concrete walls and it’s gross, why would you want to get better? It’s very institutional-looking right now.”
SUMS connected with Herowork about a year ago, following a tour of a Victoria-area facility that had been renovated. The Cove will be Herowork’s first reno project outside of Victoria, where Latour has built the organization over the past decade.
He’s “not a trades guy,” he’s “the guy putting those leads together — painting, plumbing, electrical, carpentry,” explained Latour, who has an artist and hospitality-biz background.
“I’m the storyteller, the mobilizer, the project manager,” he said. “I started Herowork because I had a friend with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) who needed some help and I thought about getting 20 people together and have a pizza party and get some work done. And we ended up bringing together 65 volunteers, 10 rotating musical acts, 27 companies and a $25,000 reno in a single day with $380. It changed my life, and that sent me on a trajectory that eventually became Herowork.”
At The Cove, plans are to rid the back courtyard of its “penitentiary aesthetic,” as Latour calls it. Fences and garbage cans will be moved, and new gazebos built along with a basketball court, tables, benches, garden planters and more.
“There’s a fair bit of wear and tear here,” Latour said, “and we know that eventually this building will be torn down for low-income housing, maybe in four or five years, so we’re changing aesthetics on the inside but everything of value will be transportable to a new location. The walls are where the walls are going to be, we’re not going to change that stuff.”
Volunteer scheduling has begun, with up to 300 needed in September.
“It’s like a modern-day barn-raising or extreme makeover, so it is lots people wearing different coloured T-shirts according to the role they have — hospitality, check-in, people serving food, we might even have live music, then your trades in one colour of T-shirt, the general volunteers.
“It’s not just trades — it’s actually 60 per cent, on average, non-trades who volunteer for our projects,” Latour added. “Another way people can help is with donations. We do this with very little budget, and it takes time, it takes money.”