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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Against the Odds

A profile of marginalized and street-invloved youth in BC

Annie Smith

Reprinted from the "Housing and Homelessness" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 4 (1), p. 8

A new study1 of almost 800 street-involved youth found that while their lives are often filled with danger and difficulty, these young people are working hard to try to build a better future.

The results show that whether youth live in big cities like Vancouver and Victoria or smaller towns like Prince Rupert and Kamloops, they share similar experiences:

  • Street involved youth are three times more likely than youth surveyed in school to have been physically and sexually abused

  • Over half report mental or emotional health problems

  • More than one in three have traded sex to survive

In the survey the youth talked about problems they had experienced before they were homeless. This gave us some key information about the need to help children and their families before things get so bad that they either leave home or get kicked out. For example, one in four youth had used drugs and alcohol before they were 11 years old, yet most had not left home or been kicked out until they were around 14.

There has been a worrying rise in the percentage of Aboriginal street-involved youth from 36% to 57% (in the communities that participated in the survey in both 2000 and 2006). This supports the need to fund Aboriginal services that can provide safe and supported housing to Aboriginal youth.

The study also found that although the odds were stacked against them, the youth were working hard, going to school and looking to change their lives for the better. The more stable a youth's home, the more likely it was that they would be in school. Yet, one in three of those who were living in the worst conditions (staying in a tent, a car, a squat or on the street) were still going to school. This shows how much the youth value school and their relationships with the teachers and counselors who work there.

More than a quarter of the youth planned to continue their education through college or university. As well as going to school, many of the youth were employed. One in three had a job, and over half of those with jobs were working more than 20 hours a week.

Friends were very important, with many youth saying that they turned to their friends for help rather than professionals. This was true, even if they needed special help like medications or medical advice.

Despite many youth having problems with their families they also felt strong connections to them. This was positive. For example, youth were 60% less likely to attempt suicide or to self-harm if they felt strongly connected to their family than if they did not.

Whether youth were surveyed in the North, the Interior or the Lower Mainland, their message was the same about what was needed in their community - safe and supported housing and job training opportunities.

About the author
Annie is the Managing Director of the McCreary Centre Society and co-author of the report, Against the Odds: A Profile of Marginalized and Street-involved Youth in BC. The report is available for free download at
  1. Smith, A., Saewyc, E., Albert, M. et al. (2007). Against the odds: A profile of marginalized and street-involved youth in BC. Vancouver: McCreary Centre Society.


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