SURREY — Youth are pleased with arts and culture in Surrey but struggle when it comes to establishing an adult life of their own, suggests a recently released report from SurreyCares.
The Youth Vital SIgns report was released on Nov. 3 and comes after the foundation released Surrey’s first quality-of-life report card last fall. The city received an overall grade of C.
This time around, that theme continued, as the city again scored a C in most categories – from education to culture to employment to transportation – from the 400 young survey respondents aged 12 to 24.
SurreyCares chair Jeff Hector said with Surrey’s youth unemployment rate sitting around 11 per cent, there was a concern around being able to live in Surrey, get an education and ultimately become employed here.
“They don’t feel very good about that and they don’t feel well prepared for that,” he said.
Last year’s Vital Signs report noted there are only 12.7 post-secondary seats per 100 youth in Surrey, compared to 48.7 B.C.-wide, a problem that has yet to improve, the report notes.
This year’s report states despite a modest increase in the number of local jobs, the unemployment rate among youth is still rising. Only 14 per cent of those surveyed aged 20 to 24 were employed.
Though the majority of Surrey’s post-secondary students with degrees and diplomas are employed, their unemployment rate has increased by 50 per cent since 2007.
The report also notes it’s often hard for youth to find housing, given the stigma of youth renters. Housing costs are at a “crisis point,” according to the report, with young people often paying more than half their income to rent.
“The other thing is transit,” said Hector. “Fewer and fewer youth are getting their drivers license, they’re relying more on transit but they’re finding the transit system in Surrey is not great to get around. Surrey is the size of Richmond, Burnaby and Delta combined. We have a vast area and it’s difficult to get where they need to go. Even if it’s just to get to school, it often takes one-and-a-half to two hours to get there, and again coming back at night.”
According to respondents, transportation and safety are Surrey’s greatest challenges.
“The safety, it wasn’t so much in the traditional sense…. They’re really concerned about bullying in schools and that came out loud and clear,” explained Hector. “They acknowledged the efforts that have been made with bullying in schools but they think more needs to be done in that area. And they said the penalties for people when they’re caught.. need to be stiffer for those individuals. I found that quite interesting.”
Those surveyed gave only one failing grade: A ‘D’ in the realm of housing and homelessness for youth.
As a result of a “dramatic” reduction in the availability of apartments in Surrey, the report says more youth are choosing to live with their parents longer. More research is needed when it comes to youth homelessness, it notes, adding of the 185 emergency beds in Surrey only six are devoted to youth.
More supports for youth are needed, as is greater funding for housing single-parent families and more long-term living arrangements for youth.
On the other hand, there was a lot youth celebrated. Arts and culture took the top spot when it came to youth praise, and next came culture, identify and belonging.
“I think one of the highlights, for us, is the fact that we found how much the youth value and have passion for Surrey,” said Hector. “I think the thing that did stand out for me is the arts and culture and how much they value that, and how much they value diversity and culture. The vast majority have a lot of respect for people of other cultures. It’s normal for them, they’re growing up with that in Surrey.”
While the survey focuses on youth feedback, the report also incorporates statistics. One statistic from Fraser Health was particularly concerning, Hector said.
“Up to 11 per cent of Surrey youth have considered some form of harming themselves or some form of suicide and 85 per cent of those are young women. It’s quite amazing to me that that’s happening. It seems to me that we need to have some more research in that area, or more drill down in that area in terms of community conversation to understand that better.
“It’s a scary number,” Hector added.
The report listed 10 things that could be done to make Surrey more youth-friendly:
- Encouraging businesses to hire young people
- More mentoring of young people
- Giving youth a voice
- Promoting youth as leaders
- Recognizing youth as the source of solutions
- Paying a living wage to young workers
- Renting to youth
- Volunteering for a youth agency or event
- Recognizing youth as our future adults
Hector said the foundation made the decision to dig deeper into youth perceptions of the city because they make up a quarter of Surrey’s population.
“They’re a big portion of the population and I guess we just had a soft spot for youth as well. We want to try to make things better for young people in our community. To me, if you can have an impact on young people that will have them started off in life on a better track and that just betters all of us for generations.”