Survey probes health of Burnaby's homeless youth

Burnaby has a youth homelessness problem, say local service providers, and a recent provincewide health survey has given them a chance to shed light on the issue.

Last fall, a youth worker with Burnaby’s St. Leonard’s Youth and Family Services tracked down nearly 50 local homeless and street-involved youth at skate parks, schools, youth centres and even under bridges, to ask them questions about their health.

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Their answers have been included in a provincial report published Thursday by the McCreary Centre Society titled “Our communities, our youth: The health of homeless and street-involved youth in B.C.”

It’s McCreary’s second provincewide report on homeless youth but the first to include Burnaby input.

“As a community, we do need to recognize that we do have a youth homelessness issue,” said Alison Grauer, director of St. Leonard’s integrated community youth services program, “so it was a good opportunity to partner with a very recognized agency that does important work around all sorts of work in the community to give voice to that.”

People working with youth in Burnaby wanted to be included in the study, McCreary executive director Annie Smith told the NOW.

“There was a real push to include Burnaby separately,” she said. “A lot of people just assume that everybody just goes to Vancouver and uses those services, but that’s not what people locally were saying. Burnaby young people are using services in Burnaby and connected to community in Burnaby, not in Vancouver.”

The survey, conducted in 13 B.C. communities, features input from youth who did not have a home; were couch surfing or living on the street; were involved in street life; or were living in unstable conditions, such as a single-room occupancy apartment, a motel, or in a home without adults.

Burnaby data is not listed separately in the report, but Grauer said being involved in the survey was a good way to get local service providers talking about gaps in services.

There are no safe houses for homeless youth in Burnaby, for example.

“If they’re truly homeless, they have to go to Vancouver or Surrey,” Grauer said.

Youth in Burnaby are also doubly disadvantaged when it comes to housing, she said, because of their age and because the city is short on low-income rental stock.

“You can imagine a 17-year-old coming up to your suite to rent,” Grauer said.

Local youth who took part in the survey also lamented the loss of youth-specific employment services centres, Grauer said.  

Provincially, the most alarming findings in the report, according to Smith, are related to mental health.

“We saw real concerns emerging around mental health compared to previous survey years,” she said.

For example, 68 per cent of youth (62 per cent of males, 72 per cent of females) reported having at least one mental health condition, while 42 per cent had seriously considered suicide in the past year, and almost a third (31 per cent) had attempted suicide.

Click on the full report below.

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