Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Voices from the Margins: Understanding Street Youth in Winnipeg

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Voices from the Margins: Understanding Street Youth in Winnipeg

Article excerpt


This paper aims to inform the development of services and policies to address youth homelessness. This research addressed the following questions: (1) How youth became involved with the street? (2) What their lives were like on the street? (3) What barriers prevented them from leaving the street? And, (4) what facilitated their transition off the street? Using the principles of participatory research, we conducted in-depth one-on-one interviews with twelve young people who had been or were street-involved. We found that youth perceived no acceptable alternative to homelessness after being kicked out of or leaving their homes. A key finding was that youth encountered barriers to leaving the street because they fell between systems meant to support adults and those for children. Youth need a targeted set of services over an extended period of time to facilitate their reintegration into mainstream society.

Keywords: street youth, homeless youth, participatory research, service delivery, public policy


Cet article vise a informer sur le developpement de services et de politiques qui s'attaquent au probleme des jeunes sans-abri. Les questions suivantes y sont abordees : (1) Comment les jeunes se retrouvent-ils dans la rue? (2) Comment est la vie des jeunes de la rue? (3) Quels obstacles nuisent a la reintegration des jeunes dans le systeme? Et (4) Quels facteur contribuent a la reintegration des jeunes dans le systeme? A partir des principes de la recherche participative, nous avons mene des entrevues seul a seul approfondies avec douze jeunes qui vivent ou ont vecu dans la rue. L'une des decouvertes les plus significatives de la recherche est que les jeunes ne voient pas d'alternative acceptable a leur situation de sans-abri apres avoir quitte leur foyer ou en avoir ete chasses. Parmi nos plus grandes decouvertes : le fait que les jeunes parviennent difficilement a quitter la rue parce qu'ils tombent dans les failles d'un systeme concu pour venir en aide aux adultes et aux enfants. Afin de faciliter leur reintegration dans la societe, les jeunes doivent pouvoir compter sur une gamme de services de longue duree axes sur leurs besoins.

Mots cles: jeunes de la rue, jeunes sans abri, rechercher participative, prestation des services, politique publique


While there is a lack of valid and reliable data on the number of homeless youth in Canada, there is evidence to suggest that the number of young people without adequate housing is growing. Novac, Serge, Eberle, and Brown (2002) identified four important trends among homeless youth: 1) the incidence is increasing; 2) an increasing number are chronically homeless; 3) the age at which youth become homeless is decreasing, especially for females; and 4) more identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. Developing the network of resources and supports to assist youth in the process of transitioning off the street is a challenge facing service providers and policy makers in most urban centres. Yet, many recent initiatives have served to make the street youth population less visible as opposed to addressing the root causes of homelessness. For example, Winnipeg's squeegee ban, which was passed with the ostensible intention of protecting youth, legally sanctioned one of the more socially acceptable ways in which youth earn money in order to survive without offering any alternative method for meeting basic needs. The Winnipeg by-law allows fines up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months if fines are not paid (National Anti Poverty Organization (NAPO) 1999). Other cities have instituted similar legislation. A number of municipal governments, including Vancouver, Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon, have passed anti-panhandling by-laws, which prevents or places restrictions on the act of asking people on the street for money (NAPO 1999). The rationale for panhandling by-laws falls into one of three categories: "the preservation of economic vitality of city areas; the public's right to the peaceful enjoyment of public places; and the eradication of an unhealthy lifestyle" (NAPO 1999: 10). …

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