Gap Analysis of Research Literature on Issues Related to Street-Involved Youth

3. Conditions and Experiences of Street Life

3. Conditions and Experiences of Street Life

A constellation of factors contributes to the harshness and instability of the day-to-day life of street-involved youth. In the following discussion we review the extent to which poverty in street youth, as indicated by lack of employment and financial resources and a lack of shelter and food, is dealt with in the literature. Findings on situational factors such as problems of poor health, racism, homophobia, and other forms of victimization will follow. Where possible, the impact of these factors on street-involved youth will be examined in terms of gender, sexual orientation, and Aboriginal ancestry.

3.1 Poverty

Numerous studies (e.g., Baron 1999; Brannigan and Caputo 1993; Caputo, Weiler, and Kelly 1994a, 1994b; Fitzgerald 1995; McCarthy 1995; McCarthy and Hagan 1992; Webber 1991) refer to the poverty of youth involved with the street. For example, McCarthy notes that once on the street, most Vancouver youth spend much of their time searching for food, shelter, and employment. Unfortunately, these searches are often unsuccessful and a majority of street youth frequently go hungry and sleep in unsafe places. These experiences left many of these youth "shaken and scared…"(McCarthy, (1995:47).

Webber (1991:14) describes this economic deprivation in vivid terms:

Life on the streets is a scavenger's existence, a restless hunt for cash or for anything that can be converted into cash or a bed or a meal or drugs to sustain the hunter for one more day…First snow does not signal time to take goose-down parkas to the dry cleaner. It triggers fear: of numbing cold, of constant fatigue because it is too risky to allow yourself to sleep in a frost. (1991:14)

3.1.1 Income and Unemployment

No Canadian or American studies were discovered that provide a systematic, in-depth analysis of how street-involved youth acquire income, find employment, and budget or use the income they do acquire. (Given this gap, it is to be expected that there is little analysis in terms of gender, sexual orientation, or Aboriginal ancestry.) What we do find are descriptions of a chaotic daily life, lived in conditions of extreme deprivation, but where economic factors are addressed largely in the context of the relationship to drug and alcohol use (Baron, 1999). In earlier studies, researchers locate economic factors within the context of their contribution to criminal behaviours. For instance, Baron and Hartnagel (1998:184) identify low income as "…the only consistent significant predictor across four …types of violent crime." (These four types were robbery, aggravated assault, group fights, and simple assault.) (See also, Baron and Hartnagel,1998 and McCarthy and Hagan,1992)

In a study of Ottawa street youth, only 15.4% of responding street youth told Caputo et al. (1994b:32) that lack of money was the most important problem they faced. However, in their discussion of employment opportunities for young people on the street in Ottawa, the same research team predicts that given the lack of education, marketable skills, and the fact of having a lifestyle conducive to steady employment, "…most runaways and street youth will never experience a career in the conventional sense. Most will move between low-paying marginal jobs in the service sector and living on some form of social assistance" (1994a:17).

In a 1995 study of youth on the streets in Vancouver, McCarthy (p.23) identifies panhandling, social assistance, and crime as the three major sources of their income, although he also describes other employment in low-skill, service occupations that typically hire adolescents. These include food services, janitorial, and retail sales work. He also mentions some employment in certain occupational areas that are less typical for adolescents, such as trades and clerical work. Respondents stated that they had received social assistance at least once during their time on the street. Seventy-five percent of the youth interviewed said that they had engaged in panhandling, but for most this was a very modest source of funds, most street youth making "considerably less" than the $30 to $50 a day that a few reported from this source (McCarthy, 1995:24). Moreover, 80% of McCarthy's respondents had not been employed at all since they started living on the street. Webber (1991:167) states that "…most of the youngsters [she] interviewed…periodically…work for wages that cannot both feed and house them."

McCarthy and Hagan (1992:623) investigated what they termed the "foreground" factors contributing to criminal delinquency. By this they mean the conditions and situations on the street rather than in the family background. They found that unemployment, especially among adolescent females, significantly related only to one outcome – prostitution. Other studies (e.g., Greene et al. 1999; Moon et al. 2000; Sullivan 1996) make a distinction between prostitution and "survival sex, " the selling of sex to meet subsistence needs. "It includes the exchange of sex for shelter, food, drugs, or money …[and is] among the most damaging repercussions of homelessness among youths" (Greene et al. 1999:1406). However, there is scant information on this source of income that compares patterns of engagement by gender or sexual orientation, other than findings that show that both male and female youth have participated in survival sex.

3.1.2 Finding Shelter

In the sources surveyed, there is considerable information about the problems street youth have of finding shelter, the types of shelter they do find, and the dangers associated with shelter. Caputo, Weiler, and Kelly's (1994c:30) case study of street-involved youth in Saskatoon states that 18.3% of respondents had "marginal living situations…in temporary shelters, with 'friends' or on the street." Nearly 40% of respondents lived with one or two parents or with other relatives, and the remainder had places of their own or were in foster care. However, as the authors point out, the explanation for the high number of youth with fairly stable living arrangements seems to be that the greatest proportion of their respondents are Aboriginal and, as noted earlier, Aboriginal street-involved youth are rarely made to leave by parents or relatives, nor once on the street do they tend to sever ties with families. This situation is not generally found among non-Aboriginal street youth. On the other hand, the researchers were told that, among street-involved Aboriginal youth, "living with parents or relatives may mean little more than having a place to sleep" and that young people of First Nations ancestry were apparently as likely as non-Aboriginal to find staying at home "intolerable." The authors report that the service providers in Saskatoon they interviewed interpret this pattern of moving back and forth from home to the street to other relatives as reflecting the strength of kinship ties and responsibilities among Aboriginal people. They consider this pattern to be something of an Aboriginal tradition of "camping out" rather than running away (Caputo, Weiler, and Kelly 1994c:31). Moreover, it is noteworthy that emergency street shelters such as the Salvation Army were rarely used by street-involved youth in this study, whether of First Nations background or not, and over 50% of all respondents said they did not know of any emergency shelter locations.

From a Vancouver study, McCarthy provides a detailed account of the places where street-involved youth seek shelter. He remarks that since there were no hostels exclusively for young people in the city at the time of the interviews, Vancouver youth spent considerable time sleeping "…on balconies, roof-tops, in doorways, hotels and a variety of other places." According to 80% of McCarthy's respondents, walking around all night was not uncommon; others spent the night in an all-night cafe, in empty cars, or in abandoned buildings where they might stay for one or two months. Parks were also utilized, though usually in the company of one or two friends, since parks were, and continue to be regarded as very unsafe locations for street youth after dark. (McCarthy, 1995:26-27).

Ayerst (1999:570) explains how searching for secure shelter can lead to negative coping strategies, when Canadian street youth "…commonly take amphetamines or other 'uppers' in order to stay awake throughout the night so that they are not 'jumped' (attacked or robbed) while sleeping." Smart and Walsh (1993:51-52) make a similar statement, concluding that the amount of time that street youth spend in hostels is strongly associated with depression, since street-involved youth with particularly low self-esteem may be "…less able to cope with the problem of accommodations and more often [may] require hostels…which are sometimes dirty, noisy, dangerous, and overcrowded," thus deepening their depression. Webber's (1991:140) interview with one street youth prompts her to comment that "hostels seem to be particularly dangerous places to sleep: 'It's the kind of place where tempers flare up…You got to sleep wearing your clothes, or on top of all your possessions, or they get stolen'." Webber (1991:159) views hostels as "decrepit storehouses of misery. At one level, they provide relief from distress. At another level, they serve as a penalty for failure."

Our search of the literature did not locate any studies focusing on an assessment of the appropriateness of shelters such as hostels for street youth. However, McCarthy and Hagan emphasize that problems of inadequate shelter and attempts to find shelter are clearly contributing factors to youth turning to serious theft and to prostitution for sheer survival (1992:597).

3.1.3 Finding Food

McCarthy and Hagan (1992:614) find a strong association between street youths' search for shelter and food and involvement with street crime. Moreover, they note that "…hunger alone has a substantial and statistically significant effect on theft of food" from stores on the street. In his 1995 study of street-involved youth in Vancouver, McCarthy refers to hunger again, noting that 75% of street youth "…said they had gone a full day without eating 'a few times' or 'often'." Though youth could at times obtain food from social service agencies, they frequently scavenged food from garbage dumpsters, and 80% admitted to stealing food (1995:25).

Antoniades and Tarasuk explore the problems of hunger and of obtaining food in greater detail. They interviewed a sample of 88 street youth, consisting of 49 males and 39 females, about "food acquisition practices, food-related concerns, and perceived barriers to food sufficiency" (1998:371). They found, for example, that "youth who were living on the street or in a 'squat', and those whose major source of income was squeegeeing or panhandling, appeared most vulnerable to food deprivation" (1998: 373). The authors attribute the vulnerability to hunger of this group of street youth to the fact that they had the least contact with family or friends who might feed them. Antoniades and Tarasuk also asked youth who reported problems getting enough food to eat what would be required to help them to eat better. Most respondents answered that adequate income, access to cooking facilities, and stable housing were essential, "…but several youth also noted that improved access to and service at charitable food programs would be of help" (1998:373-4). However, Webber states that street youth characterize this food source as "charity food" and as being "…poor food …heavy on starches and sugars…and light on protein, minerals, and vitamins." Street youth told her that wherever possible, they avoided food from food banks and instead made "…'burger runs' from behind …[fast food restaurants] that discard food after it has staled under heat lamps" and she concludes that, overall, street kids eat "rarely and poorly" (Webber, 1991:161).

The Antoniades and Tarasuk study is also noteworthy because five young women in the sample were either pregnant or breastfeeding. Interestingly, none of the five reported experiencing severe food deprivation and with just one of the respondents indicating that she had gone hungry during this time (Antoniades and Tarasuk 1998:373).

Overall, from the sources reviewed which discussed the issue of food and street youth, there did not seem to be any significant gender differences in access to food, and the authors do not mention ethnic or racial background of the respondents.

3.2 Health Problems

Determining the health status of street-involved youth is a complex and wide-ranging task. Both physical and emotional health problems are investigated in the literature. Hwang (2001) chronicles a host of physical health problems afflicting street adults and youth in Canada, including the risk of HIV/AIDS infection, other STDs (especially gonorrhea and chlamydia), Hepatitis B viral infection, substance abuse and addiction, asthma, tuberculosis and other respiratory infections, anaemia, vitamin deficiencies and other nutritional problems, skin infections and infestations, dental, and foot problems. Emotional or mental problems are also prevalent among street-involved young people and include depression and suicidal tendencies, personality disorders such as obsessive-compulsive behaviours, and psychoses such as schizophrenia (Busen and Beech 1997:317).

In addition, street-involved young people are prone to injuries and death from accidents and violent attacks, suicide, and disease. According to Roy, Boivin, et al. (1998:32), the mortality rate among street youth in Montreal is "strikingly high" when compared to that of youth living in stable family situations.

One aspect of the health of street-involved youth that does not appear to have been a subject of interest in any of the research materials investigated is that of street youth with disabilities. Why this should be is not clear, but it does seem likely that it is a reflection of the more general social invisibility of persons of disabilities. This would be an obvious subject for future research, as we will note again later, and which should include both visible and invisible disabilities. Learning disabilities and Fetal Alcohol/Narcotics Syndrome/Effect would be prime examples of the latter.

The alarmingly high incidence of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B viral infections among street-involved youth as a whole in Canada is well-documented and linked to "…the high incidence of sexual abuse reported by runaway and homeless girls prior to leaving home" (Athey 1991:520), high-risk sexual behavior (e.g., Brannigan and Caputo 1993; Hwang 2001; Roy, Lemire, et al. 1998; Sullivan 1996) such as unprotected sex with multiple sex partners, particularly among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth, and to injection drug use (Haley et al. 1998; Hwang 2001; Roy, Lemire, et al. 1998). However, there is apparently very little research dealing with these infections among Aboriginal street-involved youth. Given their relative over-representation among street youth, and the particular health risks to which Aboriginal groups are exposed, this is a decided research deficit.

Substance abuse as a risk factor in the lives of street-involved youth in Canada has been investigated by several authors (e.g., Baron and Hartnagel 1998; Brannigan and Caputo 1993; Caputo, Weiler, and Kelly 1994b, 1994c; Fitzgerald 1995; Hwang 2001; Webber 1991). What is of interest is that all of these studies stress that alcohol and drug use is part of a cluster of interrelated factors that contribute both to health problems among young people and also to such problematic behaviors as criminal activity and violence. Baron and Hartnagel, however, caution that although simple assault is linked to recreational alcohol use, this form of violence is also a product of "…association with criminal peers and the stresses of poverty" (1999:185).

Substance abuse is reported as a frequently used means of coping with the array of painful and stressful experiences faced by street-involved youth (Fitzgerald 1995:722). Most would agree with Webber (1991:225) that:

More than typical adolescents, street kids are beset with oppressive problems, both those they bring from home and those they acquire on the street. They have more than the average need to escape. Killing the pain of their existence…is the most compelling lure drugs offer. Addictions develop naturally out of the vulgar business of living in the street because some kids can cope with what is being done to their bodies only by being out of their minds. Drugs offer …illusion. (Webber, 1991:225)

The mental and physical health outcomes of such escape strategies are often life threatening. Depression, suicidal tendencies, and other forms of mental illness associated with drug and alcohol abuse are noted by Hwang (2001:231), although in their study of Toronto street youth, Smart and Walsh (1993:51) maintain that "the best indicators of current depression…were [low] self-esteem and amount of time spent in hostels." The health risks of injection drugs, specifically HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B viral infections, are well documented for youth (e.g. Haley, Roy, et al. 1998; Roy, Haley, et al. 1999). In addition to disease morbidity and mortality, alcohol and drug use are also part of a spiral of problems related to criminal activity, violence and the very real possibility of early death (Baron and Hartnagel 1998; Hwang 2001; Roy, Lemire, et al. 1998).

The prevalence of depression among street-involved youth is the subject of at least two recent Canadian studies (Ayerst 1990; Smart and Walsh 1993). Both studies link the deeper levels of depression among homeless youth to low self-esteem and such stressors as insecure and potentially violent sleeping places such as hostels and the lack of a stable support network. For example, Crowe and Hardill's (1993:21) survey found that in a one-year period in Toronto, 21% of homeless women were sexually assaulted. While the study did not distinguish victims by age, this finding shows clearly the hazard to the mental and physical well being of young women. The reality of sexual assault may well be one of the sources of depression among young women who are street-involved. This remains to be studied, however.

As well, there are no full-scale studies investigating how depression among street-involved youth may be linked to gender, Aboriginal ancestry, or sexual orientation.

There is a very interesting study conducted by a medical anthropologist that examines attitudes and ideas held by American street-involved youth about HIV/AIDS information distributed to them (Sobo et al.,1997). Results indicate a high degree of skepticism and misunderstanding, especially among female and African-American street youth, toward the advice of AIDS experts. These findings led the researchers to question the effectiveness of the preventive material distributed to street-involved youth. Their findings suggest it would be fruitful to undertake a full-scale, ethnographically-based study in Canada involving extensive participant observation among street youth, in order to learn what kinds of HIV/AIDS educational materials would be more culturally sensitive and more likely to be accepted and heeded by high-risk street-involved youth. No further analysis was undertaken to determine if there are differences in degrees of acceptance or rejection of similar education materials based on gender, sexual orientation, or Aboriginal or other ethnic or cultural groupings.

Health care services for street-involved youth in Vancouver, Saskatoon and Ottawa have been studied. Chand and Thompson (1997:16, 18, 20) note the need for expanded drug and alcohol treatment facilities and programs, for enhanced mental health services, and for medical and dental clinics located close to areas where street youth spend their days. They observe, further, that one of the major obstacles to taking advantage of existing medical facilities is that street-involved youth are confused about their eligibility for medical coverage (1997:19). Caputo, Weiler, and Kelly (1994c:22) in their study of street-involved youth in Saskatoon state that health care services for Aboriginal youth in that city are not culturally sensitive and do not incorporate Aboriginal healing traditions. Additional research may be warranted in other Canadian cities to determine if this is a problem elsewhere, and to identify approaches to healing that would be appropriate for street-involved Aboriginal youth.

Furthermore, reproductive health of young women involved in street life is a concern. There has been no systematic study of pregnancy rates in this population, but according to Hwang "anecdotal reports suggest that pregnancy is common among street youth in Canada; in a recent study in the United States, 10% of homeless females aged 14-17 years were found to be pregnant" (2001:231). Fitzgerald (1995:718) refers to homeless youth in Canada as "…a new class of 'untouchables'…who are functionally illiterate, disconnected from school, depressed, prone to drug use and early criminal activity, and eventually, parents of unplanned and unwanted babies" (italics added). Greene and Ringwalt's (1998:370) comparison of lifetime pregnancy rates among three cohorts of homeless youth in the United States reports that youth living on the street had lifetime pregnancy rates that were four times that of young women living in stable households.

Greene and Ringwalt offer several explanations for the alarmingly high rates: antecedent sexual abuse in the home, which may have resulted in pregnancy; multiple sex partners; survival sex practices/prostitution; inability to afford effective contraceptives; vulnerability to sexual assault; and limited access to or use of medical and family planning services. They (1998:375) also state that pregnancies among street-involved adolescents may be either under-reported, if young women did not know they were pregnant or were reluctant to admit to pregnancy, or over-reported, if they were malnourished and underweight, using drugs, or suffering stress which was misinterpreted by the young woman as menstrual periods missed due to pregnancy. The researchers conclude with a discussion of policy recommendations directed at street-involved youth. These include the development of pregnancy prevention and safe sex programs, condom distribution, prenatal services close to centres where homeless youth live, infant care education projects, and independent living and job training programs for female street youth with infants (Greene and Ringwalt, 1998:376).

Chand and Thompson (1997:21,31) also recommend child-care subsidies as part of educational programs for street youth and parent support programs for young parents who are street-involved. They also suggest that street-involved youth who are parents should be consulted in the design, development, staffing and delivery of child-care services. However, it should be noted that a pilot study undertaken by Goldman (1988:1041) among 50 Toronto street-involved youth found that almost half of the teenage girls believed themselves to be at little or no risk of becoming pregnant, even though there had been eight pregnancies in the group. Only one-third of the girls used a reliable, regular method of birth control. The denial also applied to sexually transmitted diseases.

This pattern of "misconception" that clearly leads to actual conception would seem to parallel the findings of Sobo et al. (1997) regarding AIDS misconceptions among runaway adolescents. It warrants further study. Moreover, not only has there been no in-depth study of pregnancy rates among street-involved young women, but there appears to be a glaring gap in research about how homeless and street-involved adolescent females, whether Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, attempt to prevent pregnancy, cope with pregnancy, care for themselves during pregnancy, and ultimately care for and cope with their infants. Moreover, little is known of attempts to establish two-parent or "extended" street families, whether based on heterosexual couples, same-sex couples, or fictive kin ties.

3.3 Victimization

Street youth are often at risk of many kinds of victimization. These include the negative effects of racism, homophobia, and various forms of harassment as well as direct violence. It is not uncommon for street youth to be victimized by other street youth. In the next sections (3.3.1 – 3.3.4) we discuss in more detail several complicating factors related to victimization of street youth – racism, homophobia, self-destructiveness, and criminal activities.

3.3.1 Experiences with Racism

There is very little in the literature on the subject of racism in the sub-culture of Canadian street-involved youth. Though there may be youth of various racial backgrounds on the street, the most evident and numerically over-represented group is Aboriginal youth. Yet, Aboriginal street-involved youth are discussed at length in only one study located for this review (Caputo, Weiler, and Kelly 1994c). A substantial minority (20%) of Aboriginal respondents engaged in street life claimed that Saskatoon police were "racist" (Caputo, Weiler, and Kelly 1994c:33). Responses from the youth and from Aboriginal community leaders show that they perceive the racism directed at Aboriginal peoples to be systemic and institutional, and thus they call for responses at that level. For example, the leaders called for greater involvement of the Aboriginal community in the design, development, and delivery of services to street-involved youth and in "…increasing sensitization to Aboriginal interests within the existing system [of youth justice]" (pp. 44-45).

The call for increased numbers of Aboriginal law enforcement officers within the Saskatoon Police Department to deal with Aboriginal street youth and for Aboriginal advisory groups for various components of the justice system confirm the Aboriginal view on the structural and institutional nature of racism. All of the recommendations emerging from the Saskatoon Case Study focus on the need for more culturally sensitive youth services in order:

…to recognize the historical realities of …[Aboriginal] young people and their families, the increased challenges now confronting urban Aboriginal people and those measures which are effective in identifying individual, family and community growth among Aboriginal people (Caputo, Weiler, and Kelly 1994c:38-45).

A second study that touches upon the issue of racism on the streets in Canada is Baron's (1997) analysis of male street skinheads in Edmonton who are perceived as "…extreme racists who violently victimize racial, ethnic and sexual minorities" (Baron, 125). Baron points out that there are contradictory interpretations and portrayals of skinhead groups, and that much of the available research on skinheads comes from journalists, special-interest groups, and law enforcement agencies whose works may reflect bias and "…lack the rigour required for social science research" (Baron, 1997:126). His research concludes that "violence between (a) skinhead(s) and a member of a racial minority was quite rare, although not unheard of," in part because other than First Nations street youth, "…there were few visible-minority youths available to victimize." He goes on to state that, in Edmonton, "…Natives tended to be headbangers, the dominant subcultural group in the area," and that, as a result, they are subject to only "minimal victimization" (Baron, 1998: 142). While Hunter (1990:295) points out that "minority youths [Black and Latino]…are at a greater risk of violent and frequent discriminatory behaviour than are White youths" in the United States, and there are numerous other studies of racism among American street-involved youth, no Canadian sources were unearthed for this review that focus on street-involved youth from non-Aboriginal but other racial groups, such as Asian or Hispanic youths. In fact, the extent to which members of ethnic minorities other than Aboriginal are involved in any aspect of street sub-culture in Canadian cities is not well documented. (Yet in a city like Vancouver, there is frequent media discussion of "Asian youth gangs" or "Latin youth dealing drugs" and there have been social programs – some years ago – addressed to "Asian youth at risk of conflict with the law[2].")

3.3.2 Homophobia

The negative effects of homophobia in the antecedent family backgrounds of gay, lesbian and bisexual street-involved youth have been noted earlier in this review. Our attempts to find Canadian studies of instances of homophobia as experienced by gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth on the street, were not fruitful. There appears to be no study of this topic.

Given that this topic has not been explored in Canadian research, brief mention will be made of a few American studies that could be useful in considering future research in Canada on this topic. Homophobia in the United States takes a variety of forms, from verbal harassment to violent assaults. For example, of those youth interviewed by Hunter (1990:297) who reported violent physical assaults, 46% claimed that the assaults were gay-related. Hunter (p. 299) suggests that homophobic emotional and verbal abuse is probably even more common and concludes that violent homophobic attacks seem to be linked to the frequent suicide attempts among lesbians and gay males in her study. Kruks states that anti-gay prejudice, discrimination, and homophobia are "rampant" in modern American society and contribute to a multiplicity of problems for homeless and runaway gay males and lesbians, including increased incidence of attempted suicide and a sense of isolation. He suggests that since it is often on the streets that gay and lesbian youth first experience peer acceptance and support, these very experiences make it more difficult for them to leave street life (Kruks 1991:515-517).

Berrill's (1990:282) study of anti-gay violence and victimization among adults observes that anti-lesbian behavior may be difficult to distinguish from more general violence against women, particularly if there is no "…explicit verbal indication" by assailants. He cites a chilling observation made by one lesbian activist that:

Like other women, lesbians are so conditioned to expect violence in their lives because of their gender, so trained to accept the threat of violence, that when they are assaulted it may not even occur to them to question why it occurred.

The implications of these findings for very young, street-involved women call for further investigation.

3.3.3 Self-destructiveness as Victimization

In their efforts to categorize youth violence, Caputo, Weiler, and Kelly (1994b:103) identify "…a wide range of behaviours or actions (verbal, psychological or physical) which result in harm, intimidation or threats to others." They add that "self destructive behaviour should be considered…as violence that is turned inward." Ayerst (1999:573) lists a variety of forms of self-victimization, including "…scraping, cutting, head banging, burning, and reopening old wounds" as common outlets and coping strategies for street-involved youth with "…stressful, conflict-ridden family backgrounds."

3.3.4 Criminal Activities as Victimization

Another type of victimization characteristic of the experiences of street youth is involvement in criminal activities. This very serious form of street victimization affects young people both as its direct victims and its perpetrators. Baron and Hartnagel's (1999:185) findings, for example, reveal that involvement with criminal activities among peers increases the propensity for youth violence. Baron (1999:7) also points to research that indicates "…high-frequency drug users on the street are heavily involved in property crime, violent crime, and drug trafficking." Baron (1999:19) concludes:

…homeless youths tend to come to the streets with backgrounds that promote drug and alcohol use. However, once on the street, their risk for drug and alcohol use is exacerbated by their street experiences, including cultural supports for substance use, drug-using peers, and involvement in a criminal lifestyle that finances heavy drug and alcohol use.

McCarthy and Hagan's (1992:614) analysis of crime causation among street-involved youth in Toronto relates occurrence of crime to hunger and the need for shelter and does provide gender analysis that links males to theft and females to the sex trade. They summarize the connection: "…there is consistent evidence that hunger causes theft of food, problems of hunger and shelter lead to serious theft, and problems of unemployment and shelter produce prostitution" (1996:597). McCarthy provides evidence from interviews collected from street-involved youth in Vancouver that criminal activities such as drug use, occasional drug sales, theft, burglary and violence are "…an integral part of living on the street" and that their prevalence increases with prolonged exposure to the street (McCarthy, 1995:32).


[2] One of the authors of this study conducted an evaluation of such a program, nearly a decade ago (Stephenson, CS/RESORS Consulting, for HRDC, the program funder).

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