Study offers insight into street-involved youth

Almost 700 homeless and street-involved youth answer questions that shine light on their needs

The health and happiness of street-involved and homeless youth has been measured once again, and the results suggest there is still plenty of room for improvements in services.

The McCreary Centre’s report on homeless youth, titled Our Communities, Our Youth, includes findings from youth in select cities across B.C., including Chilliwack. Of the 681 youth surveyed, 184 were in the Fraser Valley. However, most of the information in the report, released this week, combines data on a provincial level.

Still, the 72-page report offers insight into why youth are ending up homeless, what they need from organizations while in a homeless or street-involved situation, and what they hope for themselves in the future. The information was gathered anonymously, but includes some very telling quotes.

“As long as my mom stays sober I’m so happy to be home,” one teen wrote in the survey, which was handed out to street youth in 2014.

Sixty-one percent of those surveyed reported having a family member who had a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Among these youth, 49 per cent reported their mother had a problem, and 47 per cent had a father with a substance use problem.

Those youth who had a family member with a substance use problem were more likely to report using a range of substances themselves, including cocaine (56 per cent vs. 36 per cent of those without a family history of substance use problems), amphetamines (40 per cent vs. 21 per cent), and heroin (24 per cent vs.12 per cent). These youth were also more likely to have ever injected an illegal drug (13 per cent vs. 6 per cent).

There was some good news within the report.

Youth are finding more secured shelter than they were when the McCreary Centre completed a similar report in 2006. Youth are now more likely to have stayed in a safe hour or shelter or to have couch surfed, and less likely to stay in a squat, or abandoned building. Youth staying more precarious housing were more likely to have missed out on care, the report found.

There were also some improvements in substance use in comparison to 2006, with more youth waiting until they were 15 or older to try alcohol or marijuana, and decreases in the percentages who had used tobacco and other

substances (including ecstasy, heroin, and crystal meth). The use of crystal meth dropped from 50 per cent to about 30 per cent from 2006 to 2014.

Despite these improvements almost 1 in 10 youth (9 per cent) had been refused substance use treatment.

The youth were asked what services they want and need, and were clear on their priorities.

Youth centres, dental services, food banks, youth clinics, job training, life skills training, soup kitchens and safe houses were the most helpful and needed services, they reported. Babysitting, injection sites and veterinarian services were also mentioned.

“We need easier access to food banks,” one teen wrote in the survey.

“Help parents to make it easier to support their children,” another one wrote.

Despite their situation, the majority of street youth can see a brighter future. When asked where they saw themselves in five years’ time, youth most commonly felt that they would have a job (53 per cent), a home of their own (40 per cent), a family (24 per cent) and be in school (24 per cent).

However, nine per cent thought they would be dead, five per cent thought they would be in prison, and three per cent felt they would be on the street. Twenty-three percent of youth indicated not knowing what the future held for them.

“We should all be more accepting and less judgmental of street kids,” the report reads.

Connections the community and family play an important role in both keeping kids off the street, and in helping them out of street situations. Aboriginal youth are over-represented in the street youth community, with 53 per cent of respondents identifying as Aboriginal.

However, cultural experiences such as learning a First Nation language, lead to more positive outcomes.