The Kids of No Future: Finding a way out of homelessness and youth crime
Imagine a busy metropolis where people are hurrying off to get to work, strolling along the street window shopping, or running to catch the train. However, in the midst of all these people is a teen who is wondering how and what they will eat that day, and where they will sleep that night. One may ask, why is this teen homeless? How did they become homeless? Why get into trouble with the law instead of getting help? Homeless youth are socially marginalised and often perceived as potentially dangerous, up-to-no-good hoodlums with no future. However, what constitutes as a homeless or street youth? A homeless youth or street youth is an individual who is 25 years old or younger who have been forced to leave their families of origin; have run away from their homes without the consent of their parent or guardian; left foster or group-care placements; those not living on the street but remain engaged in street-involved activities; and those who identify with street culture (MacLaurin & Worthington, 2012). Currently, there are 279 homeless people under the age of 18 in Edmonton, and an estimated 65,000 homeless youth between the ages of 16 and 24 across Canada (“Time to act”, 2013). An ongoing issue with youth homelessness is that it is understudied in Canada (Brown and Amundson, 2010). Although it may be easier to turn away when encountering street youth, this unresolved issue would eventually inflate rather than deflate, in the future. In addition, the longer a youth stays homeless, the more likely they will turn to more serious crimes to survive. Reducing negative perceptions about youth homelessness will be the first step in finding plausible solutions to getting homeless youth off the streets and out of the justice system. Homelessness persists on account of the need to reduce preconceived judgements by understanding the underlying risks and factors of homelessness leading to encounters with the youth justice system, as well as using this understanding to find a constructive approach based on the social-welfare model in creating programs that will transition youth out of homelessness. To understand homelessness and its connections to crime, one must explore the circumstances in which a youth is exposed to on the streets. There are risks associated with living on the streets that increase the likelihood of engaging in risky behavior, ultimately resulting in victimization and crime. Once on the streets, homeless youth are subject to social exclusion. Taking into account the factors that lead to life on the streets such as being forcibly removed from home or kicked out, leaving due to destructive family structures, or leaving to gain further independence (Colombo, 2010), it is likely that they were subject to social exclusion before becoming homeless. Social exclusion is heightened on the streets. To explain, homeless youth have inadequate access to housing, employment, public spaces and positive social capital (Gaetz, 2004). As a result, homeless youth are forced to places and circumstances, which limit their ability to protect themselves, and in turn, increase the risk for victimization. To explain, the routine activities theory suggests three situations in which increase the likelihood of criminal activity: a motivated offender, a suitable target, and a lack of guardianship (Gaetz, 2004). In this case, being exposed to dangerous living conditions will increase the likelihood of coming into contact with potential offenders, or motivated offenders. A key finding in the study by Gaetz (2004) was that a greater amount of victimization, including assault, robbery, and vandalism of personal property, occurred in homeless youth compared to the rest of the Canadian public. To explain, 81.9% of homeless youth reported being victims of crime in 2001 (Gaetz, 2004). Social exclusion is also evident in that homeless youth...
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