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 GaetzProfessor & Director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless HubYork University