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Vancouver gets a report card – and some areas need work

VANCOUVER – If this city was a student, it would receive a B in most subjects, but would be headed for remedial classes in housing and income equality.

That report card was issued by local youth who marked the city on its quality of life for the Youth Vital Signs survey.

The survey was inspired by the Vital Signs surveys prepared by the Vancouver Foundation for the past three years, but with a focus on filling in an important gap in those reports.

“We thought it was a great idea to survey the population to find out what they perceive of the city and compare it to reality,” explained Ali Hassam, a member of the foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council, which initiated the project.

“But without a youth voice,” he continued, “it kind of pissed us off.”

A team of 19 young people from diverse backgrounds developed and conducted the survey. In doing so, they focused on making the survey relevant to the youth whose opinions they were trying to measure.

“If an adult makes [the survey], how are the youth going to understand what the adult’s trying to say,” said Sabiha Patel, another organizer.

“If it’s created by youth, for youth, it makes it a lot more ... meaningful, because it’s not just someone else telling us to do something,” she said.

The survey was conducted last October and November. An online survey received results from 1192 youths aged 15 to 24, while another 556 people in the same age group completed paper surveys after being approached at community centres and schools.

Tuesday afternoon, the survey organizers presented the results to Vancouver city council, including their priorities for action on the two areas where the city earned a “D” on the report card.

In the topic of youth housing and homelessness, the first priority for 45 per cent of youth surveyed was more affordable rental housing options.

Pointing out that half of youth aged 20-24 live with family, presenter Nellie Gossen told council that “we all need safe and affordable housing to transition to adult life.”

Affordable housing was also a top priority for addressing the gap between rich and poor in the city, the other area marked “D” by survey participants. But participants had another solution for youth poverty: 38 per cent said raising the minimum wage should be the top priority.

Although city council may have limited power to address recommendations for an increased minimum wage or a lowered voting age, the presentation was still an important “first step,” said Hassam.

“By going to mayor and council, we’ve given the approximately 1700 youth who participated a voice on council,” he said.

City councillor Andrea Reimer spoke to the group after their presentation, and suggested that the city could find new ways to get young voices heard in city decisions.

Patel said that was the next step for the young people who have been working on the project.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to sit with [the mayor] and create some sort of action plan, where youth are sitting at the table, with the adults,” she said, “that we’re not just at the sidelines.”

But before they start re-writing city policy, there is still one important thing left for these young people to do: a public launch party for the report, to be held Thursday evening, June 4, at the WISE hall in East Vancouver.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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