Street Kids: Homeless Youth, Outreach, and Policing New York's Streets

Street Kids: Homeless Youth, Outreach, and Policing New York's Streets

Street Kids: Homeless Youth, Outreach, and Policing New York's Streets

Street Kids: Homeless Youth, Outreach, and Policing New York's Streets

Synopsis

Street outreach workers comb public places such as parks, vacant lots, and abandoned waterfronts to search for young people who are living out in public spaces, if not always in the public eye. Street Kids opens a window to the largely hidden world of street youth, drawing on their detailed and compelling narratives to give new insight into the experiences of youth homelessness and youth outreach. Kristina Gibson argues that the enforcement of quality of life ordinances in New York City has spurred hyper-mobility amongst the city's street youth population and has serious implications for social work with homeless youth. Youth in motion have become socially invisible and marginalized from public spaces where social workers traditionally contact them, jeopardizing their access to the already limited opportunities to escape street life. The culmination of a multi-year ethnographic investigation into the lives of street outreach workers and their kids on the streets of New York City, Street Kids illustrates the critical role that public space regulations and policing play in shaping the experience of youth homelessness and the effectiveness of street outreach.

Excerpt

In the early morning hours of December 5, 1997, a young man was shot and killed on a sidewalk in East Harlem. His name was Ali Forney, and he was a street kid. In New York City and most urban areas across the United States, public violence involving street kids is not groundbreaking news. Nearly five thousand unaccompanied young people die each year in the United States, primarily from violence, illness, and suicide. Even though public violence involving more affluent young people shocked the city in the late 1990s, Ali Forney’s death did not merit even a paragraph in the next day’s newspapers. According to Carl Siciliano, a social worker who knew Ali: “I remember when there were one or two murders of young people in the city. … there was a white social work student who was murdered in Prospect Heights. It was on the cover of the paper for days and days. These kids would die and there’d be nothing. Nothing.” Ali’s was the third violent death of a street kid in six months.

Ali Forney’s life story is sadly representative of the many young people growing up on our city streets today. Forney had been arrested several times for drug dealing and prostitution. Estranged from his family, he had been living on and off the streets since his early teens. Given his prior arrest record, city police assumed that his murder was another drug deal gone wrong. But people like Carl saw a more complex picture:

I don’t want to romanticize what it was like in those days. There was a lot
of crack dealing and prostitution and drugs. But it was the street econ
omy. There are an awful lot of young people who grow up in really ravaged
environments, who don’t get educated, who get traumatized, who don’t get
parented. … They live in the street economy. They survive in the street
economy. Selling drugs, prostitution, pimping. … I don’t want to say any of
it is any good, but they do it to survive.

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