A third of street kids attend school or have a job, survey shows
Doug Ward, Vancouver Sun
Published: Friday, April 13, 2007
They couch-surf or sleep in stairwells, parking lots, cars and abandoned buildings.
Most ran away from home or were kicked out when they were 13 or 14 years old.
Their early years were marked by mental, physical and sexual violence, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.
But one-third of street youth in B.C. are resilient enough to attend school or hold down a legal job, according to a new study conducted by the McCreary Centre Society.
Many of B.C.’s marginalized and street-involved youth are trying to thrive and not just survive, said the McCreary report, titled Against the Odds.
Elizabeth Saewyc, the chief investigator in the study, said the findings run counter to many common perceptions of street youth.
"What surprised me the most about our survey is the real and clear determination of these young people to try for a better life," said Saewyc, a nursing professor at the University of B.C.
"The number of young people who are in school and working at jobs or were trying to get connected with their families was surprising to me.
"It was a hopeful sign."
The study surveyed 762 youth across nine communities in B.C. in late 2006.
Despite living hard times, 83 per cent of those surveyed felt their circumstances were good or fair, while 17 per cent described their lives as poor or awful.
While four per cent expected to still be on the street in five years and nine per cent expected to be dead by then, one-third expected to have a home of their own eventually.
And almost half believed they would have a job.
The study’s key findings include:
- One in three street-involved youth still attended school.
- One in three said they were working at legal jobs.
- A disproportionate number of street youth are aboriginal and that percentage has jumped sharply since 2000, when the McCreary Centre conducted an earlier survey of street youth.
The percentage of aboriginal youth in Vancouver, for example, rose from 37 to 65 per cent and in Prince Rupert from 76 to 88 per cent.
- One in three females and one in 10 males said they were gay, lesbian or bisexual.
The Against the Odds survey also found that B.C. is not attracting a significant number of street youth from outside the province. Eighty-four per cent of youth surveyed grew up in B.C.
"This finding runs counter to the perception that B.C. is a mecca for travelling homeless teens," said Saewyc.
In 2000, 61 per cent of street youth in Vancouver and 33 per cent in Victoria were from outside B.C.
But in 2006, only 20 per cent of youth in Vancouver and Victoria were from elsewhere in Canada.
While there is more optimism among street youth than might be expected, the lives of these marginalized teens remain troubled, said the report.
Saewyc said most of the youth surveyed did not choose the street life because they were rebellious teens who enjoyed drugs and travel.
"Many young people are choosing to leave home for survival. Unfortunately the street is not the safest place, but it may be safer than home."
Saewyc said two-thirds of those surveyed had been physically abused and more than half of the girls had been sexually abused inside or outside the home.
"Many of the youth said they were on the street because they felt more accepted there."
The report found that:
- Over a third of street youth reported that they had engaged in prostitution or survival sex.
- More than one in four had been exposed to or used alcohol or marijuana before the age of 11 and often before becoming street-involved.
- Fifteen per cent of males and 30 per cent of females reported they had made one or more suicide attempts in the previous 12 months.
- Forty per cent reported they had lived in foster care or a group home at some point in their life.
- Thirty-three per cent were couch-surfing and 31 per cent had no source of income.