Ironically, the same people we are habituated to fear have a greater risk than the general population of being victims of crimes themselves. A report released by researchers at York University and the University of Guelph states that ‘approximately seventy-six percent of homeless youths were victims of crime during the year 2009’. The study, conducted at agencies serving youths in downtown Toronto and the suburbs, also mentions that ‘three-quarters of the surveyed youths reported multiple incidents of being abused. In comparison, ‘approximately forty percent of young people in the general population testified to being victimized and the severity of their cases was relatively low’. They reported experiencing property crime whereas homeless youths are usually the victims of violent crimes. Stephen Gaetz, one of the researchers who conducted the survey expressed that “many people, including policy makers, believe that youth homelessness and crime are linked, and they use laws such as the Safe Streets Act to ‘move along’ young people. In fact, our findings show that young homeless people are among the most victimized people in our society, and they need our protection.”
The first step, it seems, to addressing this issue is to recognize that homelessness is not always due to negligence and reckless behavior. Economic factors are the primary reason why people become homeless. With youths, however, there are a number of things that might cause this to occur such as dropping out of school, aging out of the foster care system, poverty, early parenthood, etc. A number of these young people do not have anywhere in which to turn.
During the study, it was also exposed that youths who had become homeless at the age of sixteen or seventeen were much more likely to have been violently victimized than young people who became homeless at a later age. Homeless youth victimization is an inexcusable and overlooked phenomenon which should not be muddled by societal stereotypes of disconnected young people and what they might be capable of. There are a number of agencies in the United States dedicated to serving children and young adults because they are the most impressionable and vulnerable members of our society. When lawmakers pledge to work for the public good of the constituents of their states, that oath should encompass even those who sleep on benches.
Therefore, rather than finding methods to “move them along,” we need to attempt to resolve the underlying issues as well as to discover positive ways to get these young people off the streets. There needs to be a balance of preventive measures and emergency response to keep youth from being victimized, and support programs to help them out of homelessness and into productive environments. This is what Re:LIFE aims to do. (Visit Re:LIFE Inc’s Website to learn more about the different things we do to better youth lives)
authored by: Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
B.A. Applied Psychology
Edited by Chike Ukaegbu