Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

November 16, 1999

Studies shed light on lives of squeegee kids, street youth

Squeegee kids in Toronto are less likely to use drugs and commit crimes, and have a better mental outlook than other street youth, according to new research by a University of Guelph professor.

A second study by Prof. William O'Grady also found that sexual and physical abuse leads many young people to a life on the streets, and that a lack of housing prevents many from finding regular, paid employment.

O'Grady, from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, surveyed more than 100 squeegee kids in Toronto for the study, co-authored by graduate students Rob Bright and Eric Cohen. It revealed that squeegee cleaners were less likely to sell drugs, break into cars or buildings, shoplift or engage in violent behavior than other street kids. Non-squeegee street youth also reported considerably higher levels of depression than squeegee kids.

"Because they're working, making money, squeegee kids lead more structured days," said O'Grady, whose study was published in Security Journal. "We found that they are less reliant on the state for support than other street youth, less likely to use shelters, are less likely to go without food."

Commenting on recent legislation which would impose fines on squeegee kids, O'Grady added: "Given our findings, I think the provincial government should be thinking of alternative forms of employment for squeegee kids, rather than just trying to rid the province of a perceived problem."

Highlights of the study include:

Less than one-quarter of squeegee cleaners engage in theft of under $50, versus 75 per cent for other street youth.

Less than half of all squeegee kids sell drugs, compared to 66 per cent of other street youth.

Squeegee kids report feeling depressed 28 per cent of the time, and suicidal 12 per cent, compared to 58 per cent and 33 per cent respectively for non-squeegee kids.

For his second study on street kids, O'Grady surveyed 360 homeless youth and found that those working in the sex trade come from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Sexual and physical abuse lead them to leave home earlier, so they have less education and underdeveloped work skills, he said. Rates of depression were the highest of all youth surveyed. Highlights of that study include:

43 per cent spent at least part of their childhood in foster care or group homes.

40 per cent of females and 19 per cent of males cited sexual abuse as being a key factor leading to their life on the streets.

39 per cent of males and 59 per cent of females identified physical abuse as a reason for leaving home, significantly higher than the incidences among the general population.

The study also found that street youth typically make money through panhandling, crime, social assistance and prostitution, as their lack of housing makes the search for traditional paid employment difficult.

O'Grady began researching unemployed youth about 10 years ago. "Living in downtown Toronto for the past 15 years, I've witnessed growing numbers of marginalized youth," he said.

"The media has been quite critical of their activities, but using anecdotal evidence rather than informed opinion. I find this a very useful and worthwhile area of research, because it is current, relevant, and can inform and influence the shaping of public policy."

Contact: Prof William O'Grady Department of Sociology and Anthropology 519-824-4120, Ext. 8943

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338.

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