By Vic LeBouthillier
In 2011, the Vancouver Foundation polled 275 charitable foundations and 100 community leaders to find out what they believed was their most pressing issue. To their surprise, it wasn’t poverty or homelessness; It was isolation and disconnection.
This year, the foundation surveyed 3,841 people, by phone and online, about their social interactions. The survey results were published last June in a report entitled Connections and Engagement.
The report had several positive findings. 40% of those surveyed have had a conversation beyond a mere “hello” with their neighbor once a week or more. And 74% know the first names of at least two of their immediate neighbors.
But Vancouverites may be coasting on cordiality, rather than engaging in true closeness. ⅓ of respondents said they found it difficult to make friends here. ¼ said they were alone more than they wished. People aged 24-34, and tenants living in suites in houses (such as basement apartments), were especially prone to loneliness. Furthermore, all of those surveyed, who expressed problems making friends, reported poorer health and lower trust of others.
The report found that people who have lived in Canada for less than five years have more difficulty making friends (42% report three or fewer close friends and 50% say it’s hard to make new friends). Conversely, these same people spend time with their social network more frequently than others.
35% of those surveyed have no close friends outside of their own ethnic group. The ethnic group most likely to report having friends outside of their own ethnic community are people of South Asian descent (89%). South Asians are also more likely than any other ethnic group to have an optimistic view that ties among people in their neighborhood are growing stronger.
The Vancouver Foundation will continue to analyze their data and publish reports on their results, but they’re also doing something even more impactful with their findings. In conjunction with Simon Fraser University, they’ll be holding a summit called Alone Together: Connecting in the Urban Environment, from September 18-23, to examine disconnection and isolation in the Vancouver area.