Does the right to protection from crime and violence apply to all youth ... even homeless youth?

York University
September 27, 2010

Would you be outraged if your child was exposed to violence?  Would your community consider this unacceptable? 

That’s what I thought.

Then why do we, as a society, tolerate this when it comes to homeless youth?

In 2009, Bill O’Grady and I interviewed 244 homeless youth in Toronto.  We asked them about their life on the streets and if they’d ever been a victim of crime.  What we found was astounding and we’ve documented it in our report: Surviving Crime and Violence: Street Youth Victimization in Toronto (2010).

People tend to think of homeless youth as trouble makers and delinquents; as perpetrators of crime rather than victims.  But that’s not what we found.  In reality, street youth are often the victims of violent crime.  This is mainly because of the vulnerability they face by not having a home.  To make matters worse, we found that this victimization isn’t really being addressed by the police or the courts. 

Here are some of the Key findings fromour research:

  • When young people become homeless, they are much more likely than youth with homes to be victims of crime and violence.
  • Young women in particular are much more likely to be victimized, and report high levels of sexual assault and partner abuse.
  • The younger you are, and the earlier you leave home, the more vulnerable you are to criminal victimization.
  • The solution to this problem lies in changing the way we address youth homelessness.

If the levels of violence and crime found in our study were experienced by any other group in Canada, there would be immediate public outrage and pressure for the government to take action. Street youth deserve that same level of outrage directed toward their personal safety. They deserve the same response that any other group in Canada is entitled to.

I have written about this subject before, and with this new research, I am even more convinced that our current response to youth homelessness is not working. There is no doubt that being homeless puts young people at a high risk for violence and crime, and that we should be doing anything and everything we can to give young people the safety and support they need to get off the streets.

For street youth to have an opportunity to move forward in life, they need to be safe and protected from all forms of crime. Having a roof over ones head should not be a factor here and we need to press our government to make changes so that young people who become homeless have real options.

Surviving Crime and Violence report cover
Media Folder: 


You can find the report, which includes our findings, recommendations and much more on the Homeless Hub.

Stephen Gaetz talks about street youth as victims of crime. Watch the video

Listen to Stephen's interview with CBC Metro Morning.

Surviving Crime and Violence: Street Youth Victimization in Toronto was created for Justice for Children and Youthand was written by Stephen Gaetz, Bill O’Grady and Kristy Buccieri.

Stephen Gaetz is a Professor in the Faculty of Education and is the Director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Homeless Hub. He is also President of Raising the Roof, a leading Canadian charity that focuses on long term solutions to homelessness. 

Dr. Gaetz is committed to a research agenda that foregrounds social justice and attempts to make research on homelessness relevant to policy and program development. His research on homeless youth has focused on their economic strategies, health, education and legal and justice issues, and more recently, he has focused his attention on policy and in particular the Canadian Response to homelessness.  He has recently edited two volumes on homelessness in Canada, including: Housing First in Canada – Supporting Communities to End Homelessness. (2013) and Youth homelessness in Canada: Implications for policy and practice (2013). In addition, he has published a book on community-based responses to youth problems in Ireland and written numerous reports and articles published in a wide range of peer reviewed journals. Dr. Gaetz was Associate Dean of Research and Professional Development in the Faculty of Education Prior to his time at York University, Dr. Gaetz worked in the Community Health Sector, both at Shout Clinic (a health clinic for street youth in Toronto) and Queen West Community Health Centre in Toronto.

Dr. Gaetz has played a leading international role in knowledge dissemination in the area of homelessness. York played host to 2005’s Canadian Conference on Homelessness – the first research conference of its kind in Canada. In addition, York University now hosts the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Homeless Hub the first comprehensive and cross-disciplinary web-based clearinghouse of homelessness research in the world. The focus of this network is to work with researchers across Canada to mobilize research so that it has a greater impact on homelessness policy and planning.  Through the CHRN Dr. Gaetz is publishing policy relevant research, including two recent reports on youth homelessness: A Safe and Decent Place to Live: Towards a Housing First Framework for Youth. (2014) and Coming of Age:  Reimagining our Response to Youth Homelessness in Canada. (2014), as well as The Canadian Definition of Homelessness (2012), The Real Cost of Homelessness. Can we save money by doing the right thing? (2012), Can I See Your ID?  The Policing of Homeless Youth in Toronto (2011), and  Family Matters: Homeless youth and Eva’s Initiatives “Family Reconnect” Program. (2011).

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The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.