Roundtable 9: Empowering Youth


Ensuring that children and youth have a strong role in the development of their city benefits both young people and the city. Numerous groups work with youth or are made up of young people in Vancouver. Youth at risk, youth aging out of care, and immigrant youth have special needs and programs.

  • How can these efforts be made more effective?
  • What would a city that empowered children and youth look like?
  • What current initiatives and partnerships can be built on to empower youth?
  • What key challenges face children and youth in Vancouver?
  • What are the policies and other barriers that need to be addressed to empower youth?
  • What are the connections between empowering youth and resiliency?
A Night in the Life youth homelessness awareness raising campaign.

Roundable Discussion

11 people from a variety of service agencies and community groups participated in this roundtable including the table lead Marnie Goldenberg and notetaker Michaela Slinger. Participants linked personal experiences as children and young people, in foster care, as immigrants and refugees, as activists, as educators, and as parents to goals of creating child and youth friendly cities. They were explicit about seeking ways to connect what they are doing to larger systems/planning/political bodies, to talk/share with Council and be involved. They want to take ideas away to build into current work and to understand how municipal government can support their work.

Folks are accommodating when you have young babies, but people don’t give space for people above age 7. There’s an expectation of going from infancy to grown up – we’re missing the in-between.

Marnie Goldenberg

Some of the recurring themes included how the general supportive attitude of society and resources available to people with babies falls away as children age, often to be replaced with negative attitudes about teenagers and young adults. Cities are designed for adults and quiet activity which often does not reflect youth’s energy and need for expression. Organizations focus on programming, devoting less time and space to unstructured time. Participants discussed the challenges with effectively engaging young people and the gap between those who want to participate and those that reject participation (but whose voices still need to be heard). The group emphasized the need to capture and remember work that has been done in the past on these issues and to plan and focus on the long term and action rather than more discussion.

The group noted that there is a perception that front-line workers in caring/feminized work are less valuable, or that they do a job that anyone could do. How do we create more sustainable employment in these sectors which struggle with low wages and often highly challenging, emotional work days?

Key Findings

  • There’s a mismatch between funding structure/donors/timeline/reporting structure and how deep, trauma-informed engagement works on the ground.
  • We must create youth-run, youth-specific spaces (not multi-purpose rooms), including seats on committees and councils, where they don’t feel like they need to be policed in/access to resources both inside and outside – e.g. Sarah Blythe skate park.
  • Nonprofits/service providers are struggling, and need physical space for youth—e.g. using empty rooms at Neighbourhood Houses. Those spaces should be on a sliding scale.
  • What is the purpose of consultation? How do we work across class/life experience of youth, and also not just get the “marginalized voice” without looking at a systemic/policy change level? How many reports, committees, recommendations need to occur before real change occurs? Consultation exists within a current framework. If we’ve already been told what we need to do, let’s do it.
  • We must create opportunity for youth to gather unprogrammed, across differences and generation, as well as give space for groups with similar experience to have time together.
  • Youth need more options on their own terms, with less prescriptive programming and more of an offering that conversation/support/capacity building will be there when they’re prepared for it.


  • Create a city action plan to address youth homelessness – informed by the homeless count.
  • Dedicate a percentage of seats at leadership tables (e.g. local government, community centres, youth service agencies) to youth.
  • Encourage youth to run for office, engage in politics; lower the voting age and modify citizenship requirements.
  • Create youth-run, youth-specific spaces where they feel safe, free, heard, and supported (e.g. Broadway Youth Resource Centre, Sunset Community Centre, Global Lounge).
  • Support #AllonBoard: stop ticketing minors, waive all Translink fine debt, free transit for children & youth.
  • Put youth at centre of engagement and consultation process: make it flexible, less prescriptive, meet them where they are.
  • Increase pay and supports for caregivers and workers on the front lines – enough to encourage them to stay in the job. Explore workers housing, in kind donations to attract and retain bright and capable people.
  • Rethink the neoliberal model of the charitable sector which deepens the system of poverty.
  • Explore social enterprise models and other alternatives.

Related Initiatives

A Night in the Life fundraiser offers community members the opportunity to support Vancouver’s most vulnerable, street-involved youth while experiencing life on the streets through their eyes. The event includes a youth homelessness simulator – a mini-city is set up, and staff/youth clients act as bus drivers/police/social workers/youth workers/landlords/city employees/business owners, etc. that vulnerable youth may encounter daily. Participating community members receive a profile of a youth experiencing homelessness.

During the simulation there are three goals: obtain food, money, and a place to sleep. People scramble about, finding their way around and face random barriers or events (e.g. scavenged food made you sick, take drugs so that you don’t fall asleep due to feeling scared). Youth helped develop profiles over many months to create composites of young people who experience homelessness. Youth felt empowered in creating profiles and participating in the simulator. One outcome was that participants better understood the arbitrary criminalization that happens daily while youth try to engage in community activities.

Directions Drop-in Center is a safe space for homeless youth to do laundry, shower, eat a hot meal, use a computer, play video games or hang out. Services to support increased stabilization are embedded in all programming.

The Front Step (Mt. Pleasant Neighbourhood House) project is an initiative engaging youth in and from care and older adults to co-design projects that address their needs. They have two frameworks: Chaordic stepping stone (ordered chaos) and CYNEFRIN: break down system into: complex, complicated, simple (e.g. need a simple form), chaotic (e.g. need to find an expert). The project now has three rings: Youth & Seniors (centre ring), support & service providers (second ring), community (third ring).

Check Your Head has initiated a program called Youth Building a New Economy, in which youth develop leadership and community organizing skills with an economic justice focus. Their Youth Peer Facilitators also lead collaborative workshops in high schools and community spaces on issues of social, climate, and economic justice.

The City Wide Youth Council was established by the City of Vancouver & the Parks Board to provide a municipal voice for local youth. Each Community Centre selects 2 youth representatives who meet and work with Parks Board youth workers on programming and events. In the beginning, the youth workers ran the meetings, but now youth set their own agenda and have established their own committees (e.g. environmental, social media, advocacy).

UBC Global Lounge is a youth-friendly space with an international focus. Youth are in decision-making positions including on hiring committees for staff. There is space available to book for meetings/clubs etc. as well as grants available for initiatives with an international or intercultural focus.

Girls First is Girl Guides of Canada’s new program for girls ages 5 to 17. The program empowers every girl in Guiding with the tools to navigate her world through fun, relevant, girl-driven activities and experiences.

YMCA Youth Exchanges Canada: Groups of 10-30 youth between the ages of 12-17 along with 1-3 adult leaders from anywhere in BC can apply to travel to another province or territory in Canada for 1 week during the school year or summer period. Their twin group will then visit them for a week, making this a reciprocal exchange program. Through subsidizing travel, Youth Exchanges Canada encourages young people to learn about various cultures and lifestyles within Canada, and promotes reconciliation through relationship building and experiential learning.

The Broadway Youth Resource Centre (BYRC) is a one-stop youth centre that provides a wide range of social, health, education, employment, and life skills services to youth. It is a multi-service and multi-agency hub with a range of services for youth all under one roof.

For youth in low-income communities, Pathways to Education provides the resources and network of support to graduate from high school and build the foundation for a successful future.

Fostering Change is a seamless path to youth advocacy guided by former youth in care who challenge the child welfare system through political advocacy and organizing. Supported by First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, Fostering Change seeks to persuade decision-makers toward a robust social safety net for youth in and from care, transitioning us carefully to independence and aging into community rather than out of care.

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