Findings from Metro Vancouver’s first-ever count of homeless teens and young adults have advocates sounding the alarm for action on youth-based housing for the regions most vulnerable.
About 682 homeless youth are living in the region, according to results released Thursday.
The count, held April 4 to 12, sought to more accurately understand homelessness in people ages 13 to 24 and establish a baseline for future counts. It was conducted by the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association on behalf of Metro Vancouver.
About half, or 349, of the teens and young adults who participated in the survey were living in Vancouver, with another 106 in Surrey and 64 on the North Shore.
A further 16 reported living in Delta, 16 in Langley and 22 in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
Compared to the regional district’s homeless count conducted on just one night each year, these numbers were gathered in two ways: by volunteers conducting surveys, and in spreadsheets filled out by youth service providers.
“Despite the alternate methodology and more detailed findings, these figures show there is likely still an undercount of the total number of youth experiencing homelessness,” said Jennifer Hanrahan, director of operations at St. Leonard’s Youth and Family Services, during a news conference in Burnaby.
Most respondents – 74 per cent – were couch surfing or staying in a shelter, transition home, detox centre or recovery house.
Joanne Mills, executive director of the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association, said it’s clear housing is not just an challenge for adults struggling in the region.
“It’s interesting to see that housing should be the priority for youth, but there is no housing to house youth,” Mills said.
It takes roughly three months for a social worker at the friendship centre to get a young person on the streets into an apartment or a room, she said. Investment in specific housing would alleviate some of the burden.
“I also think that we need to be creative in working with our landlord market and helping them to feel comfortable renting and housing our youth.”
Aging out of care leaves youth prone to homelessness
Hanrahan pointed to the most recent census data that found 35 per cent of young adults aged 20 to 24 live at home while going to school and working – an option that doesn’t exist for youth in care. Roughly half of the youth surveyed by Metro Vancouver were previously in foster homes, with 11 per cent becoming homeless after aging out of care.
“When you look at youth in care who reach their 19th birthday, their lives drastically change,” Hanrahan said. “While there has been progress in funding for post-secondary education, what we really need to look at is the age that government assistance ends for [them].”
Roughly 58 per cent of the youth said high rent was the number one barrier to housing, followed by low income, mental health challenges, and substance use or addiction. These reasons have left 44 per cent homeless for one year or more.
Dylan Cohen with First Call BC, an children’s advocacy group, said the supports, including financial assistance for housing, needs to consider the cost of living for individual youth based on where they live.
“I appreciate the idea that we need to invest in housing, but there’s an immediate need to house people, so we need to earmark the supports that are available to what it actually costs to house folks. Then we can build housing to save money later on,” he said.
Cohen, who was formerly homeless in Manitoba, said those in power need to create laws that commit to expanding the existing supports for those aging out of care to prevent further marginalizing them.
The advocates agreed that both the federal and provincial governments committing to poverty reduction plans could mean promising advances of services and housing focuses for youth and families most vulnerable.