It was an emotional day for the Starnes family, Friday, as the late Cole Starnes was honoured with his name on a soon-to-open housing project in Abbotsford.
Starnes tragically died of an overdose at the Lookout Society’s Riverside Shelter at 25 years old in February 2018. When shelter patrons were asked for input on naming the modular housing project, opening shortly on the same site, about 70 per cent of the input included references to the young man, according to Lookout Society executive director Shayne Williams.
“Cole’s loss was felt very acutely by the Lookout Society, our staff members and the guests that stay here, and when we were looking for a name for this residence, we did do a lot of conversations directly with the tenants and had a little drop box for suggestions,” Williams said.
“Despite the tragedy, somebody who had such a profound impact and left us far too early, we wanted to commemorate the impact that he’s had on our organization and our community. Every loss is a bad loss when it comes to the fentanyl/opioid crisis in this province.”
Construction is still ongoing at the housing project, which Williams estimated would be seeing people moving in in two or three weeks, eventually housing upwards of 40 people.
Williams said the housing project, being transitional housing, generally should see two-year tenancies, with the Lookout Society providing wrap-around services to help tenants overcome barriers to housing.
“Everybody’s who’s here will be individually case-planned, so services will vary on individuals coming in. What do they need, what are they looking at? It could be anywhere from money management and poverty, it could be reconnecting to family, community, culture, heritage. It could be mental health, addictions challenges,” Williams said, adding that the two-year stay isn’t a hard line.
When the tenants are getting ready to move out of the transitional housing, Williams said the project will help with the transition into new housing as well, helping people to connect to the services they need to maintain housing in the long term.
With the first tenants moving in now, that would mean in two years’ time, there’s likely to be some residents expecting to move out. Mayor Henry Braun said, with numerous rental projects approved in recent years, he expects to see the city’s vacancy rate open up by the time some of those tenants are moving out.
“We are moving heaven and earth, almost, to get as many projects approved as we can in the marketplace for rental housing,” Braun said, adding that the city is also, in the meantime, advocating for further supportive housing from the provincial government.
“We’re just making a dent. We need much more housing, and we will do whatever we can as a city to provide land, within our jurisdiction and ask the provincial government – I had an exchange with the minister just last week, because we need more housing.”