Ex-squeegee kids' living conditions have worsened, U of G study shows
Ex-squeegee kids' living conditions have been negatively affected by the Ontario Safe Streets Act (OSSA), according to new research by University of Guelph sociology and anthropology professor William O'Grady.
O'Grady, who has been studying youth squeegee activities since 1996, and Guelph BA graduate Carolyn Greene surveyed 50 youth in Toronto involved with squeegee cleaning prior to the Jan. 31, 2000, implementation of the OSSA to determine how they've been affected by the statute prohibiting begging in public spaces.
Their study, published in the Online Journal of Justice Studies, revealed that prior to the OSSA, many squeegee kids were sleeping with friends, in motels or in their own apartments, but after Jan. 31, 2000, they were more likely to be sleeping in the streets, in shelters or in squats. While the quality and safety of housing for both males and females deteriorated after the OSSA, the living conditions for young women deteriorated the greatest. Fifty-three per cent said they often slept in the streets, compared with 27 per cent before Jan. 31, 2000.
In the wake of the government's removal of a relatively lucrative form of money-making, "the real punishment that has been imposed on these youth is further economic and social exclusion, particularly in the form of lower-quality and riskier shelter," said O'Grady.
The new statute has also resulted in ex-squeegee kids relying more heavily on government assistance, he said. "There has been an increase from 26 per cent to 34 per cent of males relying on general welfare as an income source, and an increase from 33 per cent to 53 per cent for females."
O'Grady and Greene found that youth who relied on squeegee activities for money have seen an increase in negative encounters with police. Twenty-five per cent of the males in their study said they had been jailed at least once because they had been squeegee cleaning. The researchers also found that many of the young people they spoke with turned to panhandling or begging and some to drug dealing after the OSSA.
Rather than stopping squeegee activities altogether, the new statute has pushed a number of youth to squeegee cleaning in areas of the city where there are fewer storefronts and less pedestrian traffic, such as Lakeshore Boulevard and Bay Street, the study found.
"While there is no reliable empirical evidence to support the claim that OSSA has made the streets of Toronto safer for the general public, the results of this study show that life on the streets for many homeless youth has become less safe today than it was prior to Jan. 31, 2000," said O'Grady.
He added that a possible solution to controlling squeegee activities while keeping youth safe would be to implement indirect regulation of squeegee activities, as Winnipeg's social planning council has proposed. "They suggested that squeegeeing be indirectly regulated by limiting it to certain areas with licences," said O'Grady. "This recommendation sounds relatively reasonable."
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