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British Columbia Metro Vancouver finds nearly 700 homeless youths in the Lower Mainland

A homeless person sleeps on the street in the South Granville area of Vancouver, B.C., March 11, 2008.

Lyle Stafford/The Globe and Mail

Almost 700 young people throughout the Lower Mainland have been identified as homeless, including some under the age of 13, in a first-ever count of that group.

Half of them had come out of the foster system and almost half were Indigenous, according to a report released Thursday on the results of a Metro Vancouver tally in April.

And a quarter of them, despite the fact they were surviving by couch-surfing or staying in shelters, were in school or college.

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Those findings mean governments need to improve the support they provide for young people, said advocates who participated in gathering the data.

“We know there is more that needs to be done,” said Dylan Cohen, a young man who was homeless himself at 16 as the result of a bad foster-family placement. “Youth from care need support, they need systemic solutions.”

Mr. Cohen, who now works for the advocacy group First Call, said he sees other young people such as himself working at jobs to try to stay afloat, still not being able to afford rent and being exploited.

Joanne Mills, who works with a group that serves Indigenous families in Surrey, said the biggest problem advocates for young people run into is finding them housing.

“On average, it takes us three months to find an apartment for youth to live in.”

She urged governments to look at providing housing that is specifically geared to young people, since they are often not wanted in buildings run by private landlords.

The Metro Vancouver count of homeless young people used a new kind of methodology that included interviewing people in the school system. Homeless students are often overlooked, the report said, because they are not necessarily on the streets or in contact with social services.

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The information gathered indicated that the most common age for the first experience of homelessness was 15 or 16. Family conflict with either biological or foster-family members was a main reason given for their homelessness, with drug and alcohol use and mental-health problems listed as significant factors as well.

The highest number of homeless young people was in Vancouver, with 349; Surrey was next with 106. But even suburbs such as Delta and White Rock had some homeless youth identified by the study.

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