Last week, we were enlightened about the plight of youth in our region. In seven days, the Victoria Foundation released the results of its annual Youth Vital Signs survey, First Call BC put out the annual BC Child Poverty Report Card and the national Youth Vital Signs report was released.
The results? Nationally, the average youth is under paid, under served by social programs and struggles to keep up with an uncertain future, debt and mental health issues. In B.C., the gulf between rich and poor continues to be the highest in the country, with the rich paying four per cent less tax on annual income than those at the lowest end of the spectrum. B.C.’s overall poverty rate remains the highest in Canada and its child poverty rate, while slightly improved, is the second highest.
Here at home, where the average family needs just over $65,000/year to survive, a quarter of the region’s children continue to live in households unable to make ends meet. For the fourth year in a row, local youth told the Victoria Foundation that youth housing and homelessness was their top priority.
While these statistics describe some of the hardships facing youth in The Capital, it’s the numbers that are missing which reveal the depth of poverty and desperation for the poorest of our region’s young people.
The report card looks to family income as a measure for youth poverty, ignoring youth living on their own or on the street. Likewise, despite a clear mandate from the last four years, the Victoria Vital Signs survey doesn’t seek out — and therefore silences — homeless youth.
Despite this year’s data, what we don’t know about at-risk youth could fill volumes. According to Mark Muldoon of Threshold Housing Society, this information could deeply impact service providers. “Right now,” he says, “I can’t help but think we’re just shooting in the dark on these things.”
Estimates have placed the cost of creating this data at $100,000 — next to nothing when you consider the bloated budgets of any given government body or the benefits a deeper understanding of marginalized youth could provide. Until we can at least say how many youth are surviving on our streets, all our promises to those youth serve nothing more than our own guilt. M