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Vancouver is a lonely place for young and low-income people: report

Young people are twice as likely to feel lonely than the average person, according to a report from the Vancouver Foundation.

A person walks along Vancouver's seawall near Stanley park on Sept. 28, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro

A person walks along Vancouver's seawall near Stanley park on Sept. 28, 2017.

Almost a third of young people in Metro Vancouver – those aged 18 to 24 – often feel lonely, according to a report released Wednesday from the Vancouver Foundation.

In fact, rates of loneliness are highest among millennials and those who make less than $20,000 a year, according to the organization, which surveyed 3,785 Metro Vancouver residents.

The Vancouver Foundation conducted the study five years after it released its 2012 report, which found a quarter of Metro Vancouverites reported being alone more often than they wanted.

In the 2017 version, study authors wanted to find out how many respondents ‘felt’ lonely, as opposed to actually being alone. They found 30 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 24 reported feeling lonely “almost always” or “often” and that number jumps to 38 per cent for low-income people. The overall average is 14 per cent.

The numbers match with another finding in the report – that time pressure is the number one reason why people don’t communicate more with one another, said Kevin McCort, president and CEO of the Vancouver Foundation.

“There’s a certain population, younger, lower income, newer arrivals, that experienced loneliness more often. They are time pressed and money pressed,” he said.

“We can identify some of the correlations between people’s lifestyles and their experience of loneliness.”

A strong sense of community can combat feelings of loneliness but participation in community activities has decreased since 2012, according to the report.

“There is a clear drop in the number of people that go to community centres, rec centres, religious services, and intercultural events,” said McCort.

And while three-quarters of respondents are happy with the neighbourhood they are living in now, about half plan to move in the next five years. The study did not look into why people want to move, but 38 per cent of respondents said they know friends or family who are moving out of the neighbourhood due to affordability reasons.

No matter the reason, McCort said that if so many people plan to enter new neighbourhoods, it’s important that communities welcome newcomers.

“If people are that mobile, that communities need to be able to adapt and welcome them.”

Creating more common areas can help, said McCort. A third of Metro Vancouverites don’t have access to a yard or common space where they can socialize with neighbours, according to the report.

As cities continue to densify, urban planners need to protect those kinds of spaces and create more if possible, said McCort.

“These spaces are incredibly important. There are things you can do in those spaces, host events, encourage people to use them – make permitting easy so that people can use those spaces for events.”

The City of Vancouver is already working on making Vancouverites feel less lonely. It launched a taskforce to investigate why a quarter of residents in the Vancouver area were alone more often than they wanted after the Vancouver Foundation’s 2012 report came out. The organization’s 2017 report found that rate has gone down by two per cent.

More recently, the city funded a study, called Hey Neighbour, to look at how building design can facilitate friendlier communities inside multi-family developments.

For now, people who want to help others feel less lonely can start with the simple things, said McCort.

“Even something as simple as smile at somebody if you see them, answer a question if they ask you something,” he said.  

“Those micro interactions that people have with each other can actually make a significant difference about what people feel about their community.”

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