Homeless and Street-Involved Youth Survey: A Summary

The McCreary Centre Society is a non-government not-for-profit committed to improving the health of BC youth through research, education and community-based projects.  In July 2015, the Society released the findings of its 2014 Homeless and Street-Involved Youth Survey (HSIYS). A total of 681 youth (aged 12-19 years) participated, from 13 BC communities including Burnaby, Vancouver, and North Vancouver.

This is the third time McCreary has conducted this survey. The results provide important information about risk and protective factors among BC youth who are homeless, precariously housed, or involved in a street lifestyle.

Youth with experience of homelessness were involved throughout the process, from survey development and delivery, to interpretation and dissemination of the findings.

Participation in the survey was voluntary and anonymous, and youth who chose to take part received a small honorarium.


Survey results showed that youth most commonly first became homeless or street-involved when they were 13 or 14 years old, although more than a quarter (28%) first became homeless at a younger age.01. Age youth first became homeless

Aboriginal youth were over-represented in the survey results, as were sexual minority youth, youth with a mental health condition, and youth who had been through the government care system.

Reasons for Youth Homelessness

The most common reasons youth became homeless were not getting along with their parents and/or being kicked out of home. The rates of both of these increased from when the survey was last conducted in 2006, as did the percentage who left home because of violence or abuse at home.

02. Reasons for becoming homeless

Mental Health

The statistics show that many youth come from families who have struggled with mental health and substance use challenges across generations or who have experienced the intergenerational trauma of being raised in residential schools or government care.  The percentage of youth reporting that both their parents had a mental illness was five times higher than in 2006 (15% vs. 3%). This emphasizes the need to support families early and differently to ensure children and youth can optimize their chances of a successful transition through adulthood.03. Common mental health conditions

Mental health was a major area of concern in the survey results, with high percentages of youth (68%) reporting at least one mental health condition. More than 1 in 4 had seriously thought about killing themselves in the past year, and almost a third (31%) had attempted suicide.

Among homeless youth, those with mental health challenges were more likely to come in contact with the police. Also around half of youth with FASD had been arrested (compared to 29% of youth without FASD).

Substance Use

There were some improvements in substance use in comparison to 2006, with more youth waiting until they were 15 or older to try alcohol or marijuana, and decreases in the percentages who had used tobacco and other substances (including ecstasy, heroin, and crystal meth).

Despite these improvements almost one in 10 youth had been refused substance use treatment. Accessing needed medical and mental health services were also challenging for many homeless youth.


The youth were surveyed about sources of income in the past 30 days. Over a third of males (35%) and 26% of females surveyed have reported working at a legal job in the past month, and 12% worked at least 21 hours a week. Also, more than a third volunteered in their community since becoming homeless.

The Role of School

One of the major messages from the data was the important role that school plays in the lives of homeless youth. More than two thirds (68%) of youth were currently in school. Just over half of these youth (51%) planned to go into post-secondary education.

Among youth who were currently attending school, the majority felt connected to school. Youth who felt connected to school were more likely than their peers who did not feel this way to rate their mental health and/or current life circumstances as good or excellent. It is hoped that this report will confirm what a vital role school personnel have in supporting vulnerable youth to stay in school and engage in school life.04. Connected to school

Protective Factors

Other protective factors were also identified. For example, homeless youth who cared for a pet were more likely to be in school and less likely to be using a number of substances than youth who did not have a pet.

Youth who felt meaningfully engaged in the activities they took part in and felt listened to and valued reported better mental health than those who did not feel engaged or valued in their activities. Feeling connected to their community was also linked to positive mental health for homeless youth.06. Meaningful youth engagement and health benefits

Role of the Youth Worker

Youth approached a range of professionals for help, most commonly a youth worker. The results highlight the importance of youth workers and their success in connecting with youth who often have very complex challenges in their lives. Many youth workers are employed by not for profits struggling to survive in the current economic climate, yet the services they provide consistently show the value of continuing to fund these positions.

Unmet Needs08. Services  youth needed

As in 2006, the most common services or programs youth reported as lacking in their community were safe and affordable housing, job training or work experience, safe houses, shelters or transitional housing, and youth centres.

Using these Findings

The survey results give us information which can help us to understand and support youth in our communities who become homeless or street-involved. It is hoped that they will be used to effect change and ensure we take a trauma-informed approach to the young people who are homeless or are at risk of homelessness.

These findings are currently being shared with youth and service providers in communities that participated in the survey.

Full results of the survey are available in the report Our Communities, Our Youth: The Health of Homeless and Street-Involved Youth in BC, available on the McCreary Centre Society’s website.


 Annie Smith, Executive Director of McCreary Centre Society, has graciously contributed this summary of the latest survey. Anyone interested in a presentation or interactive youth workshop sharing the findings should contact Annie at annie@mcs.bc.ca. For more information on the McCreary Centre Society, visit their website.