An abandoned house was completely renovated for a homeless veteran, and his reaction to the surprise will warm your heart

Torre Harris and Tawana Hughes embrace. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook
  • Torre Harris is a Marine veteran who was homeless on and off for 15 years.
  • 100 volunteers from Operation Victory spent six months remodeling an abandoned house in Kentucky, finally giving Harris a home.
  • “I just couldn’t believe there was so many nice people in the world,” Harris told Insider.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Sometimes it takes a village to build a home. A community in Louisville, Kentucky, rallied together to honour a homeless Marine veteran with the keys to his new house.

Torre Harris, 60, couldn’t believe it when he was told the home was all his.

“I felt like a celebrity,” Harris told Insider. “I just couldn’t believe there was so many nice people in the world, period. I can say they really helped me out. It’s such a touching thing to me.”

Working with the organisation Operation Victory, more than 50 labour unions, community groups, and businesses spent six months renovating an abandoned house for Harris to move into.

Torre Harris is a Marine veteran who served from 1978 to 1981. He fell upon hard times when he returned to Louisville from active duty.

Torre Harris. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

Harris is a contractor – a job he loves. It’s an art that, for him, invokes the image of Jesus, who was a carpenter.

“Because God gave me the hands and the strength, he wakes me up every morning so I can go to do this work. If Jesus Christ can do it, I can too,” he said.

But around 15 years ago, Harris was injured in a car accident, which affected his ability to work. He spent the next decade homeless off and on until he received his own home in 2020.

Harris’ abandoned house before it was remodeled. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

The nature of contract work meant it was tough to get a regular paycheck. Harris struggled to pay for both his health insurance and also keep himself afloat.

“It just put me a little bad where I couldn’t move about the way I needed to,” Harris said. “I started going around from friend to friend, family to family and it just didn’t work out.”

After being contacted by one of Harris’ colleagues, Operation Victory found an abandoned house — and 100 volunteers worked for six months to turn it into his home.

Harris’ house before it was remodeled. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

Harris had been contracted by the Housing Partnership Inc to renovate and restore abandoned homes. HPI is a nonprofit real estate company that develops affordable housing for those who need it.

One day HPI’s director of construction, Tawana Hughes, found Harris sleeping in the houses he was supposed to be remodeling. Deciding it was against the company’s morals to have a contractor without a home, she recommended him to Operation Victory.

Harris was the third person to receive a home remodeled by the group.

Volunteers help with landscaping. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

Started in 2017, Operation Victory is a coalition of businesses, unions, and community organisations with a mission to help homeless veterans. This included several partnerships with local organisations like River City Flooring, the UAW Ford Community Outreach, and Metro United Way.

“We saw there was a need in our community to help veterans and homeless folks,” Tim Morris, director of the Greater Louisville Central Labour Council, told Insider.

Harris’ home had been vacant for two or three years before Operation Victory got to work.

Harris’ house before it was remodeled. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

There are around 5,000 abandoned or vacant properties in Louisville, Kentucky.

Morris said not only does Operation Victory help veterans by giving them a home, but it also betters the community by removing an abandoned house and lowering crime.

The first step was inspecting the home to see how much work the group had ahead of them.

Harris’ house before it was remodeled. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

Nick Reid, who helped serve as project manager on the house, told Insider that once a house is selected, it is inspected to see what kind of damage it has.

“They go in and pull the drywall to see what’s behind it,” he said. “We got in the crawlspaces to look at foundations. Did as much inspection as we could.”

After the house was inspected, volunteers started removing trash from the house and pulling up bushes from the yard.

Volunteers start carting off trash. Tim Morris/Operation Victory

Morris said they managed to fill up two dumpsters by the time they were done.

The interior walls were completely ripped out down to the studs.

Construction workers gut the drywall. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

Workers also knocked down interior walls, which helped to expand the living room and kitchen. They also replaced floors that had rotted away.

After the house was gutted, new drywall and insulation was installed.

New drywall is placed by construction workers. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

“It’s always so amazing to see the work so many folks are able to come together and do,” Morris said. “This feels like something we can do to serve [veterans] after they served us and protected us for fighting for our freedom. It’s a great thing to give back a little bit. We will never be able to give back the proper amount they deserve.”

Every room, including the bathroom, got a makeover.

The bathroom in Harris’ new home. Tim Morris/Operation Victory

After six months of work, it looked like a totally different home.

After the interior construction was complete, power to the residence was restored.

Electricians restore power to the house. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

The team then began installing appliances like stoves and refrigerators that had been donated by local partners.

One evening Hughes decided to surprise Harris by taking him to his new home.

Harris’ house after the remodel. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

She told him, “Before we go back in, I got you a house I want you to go hang some blinds in.”

Harris started to hang the blinds, unaware that he was hanging them in his own home.

When she told him he was actually at his own house, “I was just speechless,” he said.

Harris and Tawana Hughes embrace each other. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

Harris was shocked. He said the memory still makes him smile from ear to ear.

“I was just speechless,” Harris said. “I thought it was somebody’s house I was just working on like I normally do.”

As his supporters looked on, Harris signed the paperwork that officially made the home his.

Harris signs his lease. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

Now that he has his own house, he wants to continue to build his contract business and get himself a dog.

Since moving in, Harris said he enjoys the peace and tranquility of his own home.

Harris’ house after the remodel. Tim Morris/Operation Victory/Facebook

“It’s wonderful. There’s no one there but me,” Harris said. “I don’t have listen to nothing. I just listen to myself breathe. I don’t even cut the TV on. I just sit there and enjoy it.”