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Despite research report, not all Victoria youth feel disconnected from community

Youth in Greater Victoria feel less connected to their community and worry about housing, homelessness and education.

That's according to the results of an annual Victoria Foundation survey.

The Youth Vital Signs report asks people aged 15 to 24 about 13 issues critical to their quality of life, including housing, transportation and the environment.

"We (work with) eight high schools here in the community, giving them $2,500 a year each (to direct to charity)," said Sandra Richardson, executive director. "We ask them to use our reports as a lens to determine where they'd like grants to go, but it can't benefit the school or themselves," she said.

Last year, the students of Vic High chose Threshold Housing Society, a transitional housing program for at-risk youth.

The report has been produced for two years as a supplement to the all-encompassing Vital Signs report, and helps to educate donors and create awareness of youth issues, Richardson said

Of the roughly 200 young people surveyed, 75 per cent are female and 25 per cent male. Roughly half of respondents volunteer, live with their parents and have lived in the Capital Region all their lives.

The number of youth who reported feeling "very connected" or "somewhat connected" to their community fell from about 88 per cent in 2011 to 71 per cent this year. Young people who felt "hardly connected" rose from 10 per cent of total respondents to 26 per cent over the same period.

The reasons behind that change are more difficult to pinpoint, Richardson said.

"Maybe there are more students living away from home, but I hope the report provides an opportunity to delve deeper into that."

Carina Pologer and Fairahn Reid, both Grade 12 students at Vic High, would be considered very connected, as both volunteer with various school fundraisers and committees on top of their studies.

"The people who are involved are really involved. They take on everything that they can," Pologer said. "The people who aren't involved, it's probably a matter of appealing to their interests."

Reid said it's difficult to place all youth into standardized categories, noting that even students who aren't displaying overt leadership qualities engage in activities of interest.

"I know classmates who are passionate about environmental issues, so they take part in the Enbridge pipelines protests, for instance," she said. "It depends what your situation is. If you're trying to go to university and need to move out and pay rent, it's really difficult ... to find a job and affordable housing."

On the other end of the spectrum, the Victoria Youth Empowerment Society operates Victoria's only youth emergency shelter, detox and drop-in centre.

About half of the society's 2,000 annual clients are at-risk youth, while the other half are just looking for somewhere to go, said Pat Griffin, executive director.

"For us, addictions and mental health are pretty equal in concern to homelessness," he said.

The society's nightly drop-in centre has seen participants double in the past two years, an increase attributable to "myriad reasons," he said.

"A lot of that began when the economy started to go in the tank," he said.

About 33 per cent of youth who were surveyed for the report believe more year-round youth shelters are needed in the Capital Region.

"We're the only game in town if (youth) need to detox," Griffin said.

To view the report and learn more about Vital Signs, visit victoriafoundation.bc.ca.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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