A growing problem in society today is the growing number of street kids in large urban centers such as Toronto, London, and Vancouver etc. According to Angel Femia, Director of Lovecry in Toronto, there are about 15,000 street kids in the downtown core of Toronto alone. Remember not all of these kids are on the street panning (panhandling). Some may be working the alleyways in Regent Park and Boystown (Wellesley and church area), or some may just be at a safe house hiding from police and social service agencies. Most of these kids have many problems that are unbearable at home such as sexual, psychical and mental abuse. Others are kicked out because they did not live up to their parents' expectations, such as finishing school, etc. Many end up on the streets after being in the custody of social agencies and once they are a certain age they are cut off from the support of these agencies and left to fend for themselves. It is important to understand that typical street kids have not gone unnoticed by the institutional systems of rescue and care. Rather, most have been through the system, they are known to social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and police. Some seem as much the children of paid professionals as they are their own parents. (Webber, 180) Psychical and sexual abuse in group or foster homes occurs more frequently than in the general population. Forty percent of confirmed sexual abuse victims were age six or younger. Recent research estimates 45 percent of female and 10 percent of males are sexually abused before age 17. Among street kids this rate of abuse is significantly higher. 38 percent of male street kids and 73 percent of females had been sexually abused in some way according to a 1984 statistic.
In a study done of Victoria street-involved youth, it was found that most street youth have at some time experienced physical or sexual abuse, and most have run away or been kicked out of home. About half of the youth say they have an addiction problem, and about 25% are involved in the sex trade. Risky behaviors often began at an early age, even before the youth became a teenager. The study shows that troubled youth from smaller centers tend to migrate to the cities, adding to the number of youth on the street in Vancouver and Victoria. In the cities, most street youth live in shelters or abandoned buildings ("squats"). Yet not all street youth are literally homeless, the report states. Suburban and non-urban communities also have sizable populations of youth who are involved in high risk behaviors on the street, but these youth tend to be younger and are more likely to live with parents or guardians at least part of the time. Other key study findings include:
Over 1/4 of street youth have attempted suicide in the past year.
Although most street youth have been expelled or suspended from school at some time, about 2/3 say they are currently attending school.
Nearly 2/3 of street youth in Vancouver and 1/3 in Victoria come from other provinces. (www.mcs.bc.ca/march26.htm)
Over 1/3 have been in government care, including foster care or group homes, and nearly 1/2 have spent time in a custody center.
Mentally and emotionally disturbed street youth do not have a fair chance to get treatment. Doctors do not have a sound understanding of there problems. Students studying to become shrinks usually specialize in other areas. Schools are not stressing the needs of adolescents. Many of these kids have no idea how to take care of simple things like money matters, basic needs, etc. Out on their own it’s easier to fall into a trap of sex, drugs and alcohol. Many kids on the street are addicted to heroin, crack cocaine and alcohol. Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug of abuse. Once having tried cocaine, an individual cannot predict or control the extent to which he or she will continue to use the drug. The major routes of administration of cocaine are sniffing or snorting, injecting, and smoking (including free-base and crack cocaine). Snorting is the process of inhaling cocaine powder through the nose where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues. Injecting is the act of using a needle to release the drug directly into the bloodstream. Smoking involves inhaling cocaine vapor or smoke into the lungs where absorption into the bloodstream is as rapid as by injection.
"Crack" is the street name given to cocaine that has been processed from cocaine hydrochloride to a free base for smoking. Rather than requiring the more volatile method of processing cocaine-using ether, crack cocaine is processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water and heated to remove the hydrochloride, thus producing a form of cocaine that can be smoked. The term “crack" refers to the crackling sound heard when the mixture is smoked (heated), presumably from the sodium bicarbonate. There is great risk whether cocaine is ingested by inhalation (snorting), injection, or smoking. It appears that compulsive cocaine use may develop even more rapidly if the substance is smoked rather than snorted. Smoking allows extremely high doses of cocaine to reach the brain very quickly and brings an intense and immediate high. The injecting drug user is at risk for transmitting or acquiring HIV infection/AIDS if needles or other injection equipment are shared. (www.nida.nih.gov/Infofax/cocaine.html)
Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive drug, and is abused more than any other opiate. Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of certain varieties of poppy plants. It is typically sold as a white or brownish powder or as the black sticky substance known on the streets as “black tar heroin." Although purer heroin is becoming more common, most street heroin is “cut" with other drugs or with substances such as sugar, starch, powdered milk, or quinine. Street heroin can also be cut with strychnine or other poisons. Because heroin abusers do not know the actual strength of the drug or its true contents, they are at risk of overdose or death. Heroin also poses special problems because of the transmission of HIV and other diseases that can occur from sharing needles or other injection equipment. (www.getcured.com/heroin.htm)
Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is a disease that includes the following four symptoms:
Craving – A strong need, or urge, to drink.
Loss of control – Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun.
Physical dependence – Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking.
Tolerance – The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “high."
The expression street kid seems odd since the street expunges all trace of childishness, whether related to age, inclination or immaturity. However street kid captures a concept: young, homeless and trapped. Canadian streets destroy kids! Some are casualties of pimp, trick and dealer violence, most are poisoned by drugs. All of them die a little each day from despair and broken hearts in a community where friends are just dudes ... who haven't hurt you yet. Life on the streets is a scavenger’s existence, a restless hunt for cash or for anything that can be converted into cash or a bed or a meal or drugs to sustain him or her for the day. (Webber, 210)
Often upon the streets many kids believe the only way out and off of the streets is the grave, but most don't realize this until it is too late. Suicide is quite prevalent among street kids, most street kids know at least one person who has either tried or has committed suicide. At first it seems easy, you can look the way that you want, you can do what you want, and you can have and practice whatever sexual orientation you may be. But the drawbacks are many. The street offers no privacy, no individual space, and no stability. The only constants are danger, disease, despair and the desperation of life on the edge.
Most street kids stay clear of professionals, because they fear they may try to force them to go home or into institutions. With increasing numbers of kids coming and going first come (old school of the streets) have to fight for their territory (i.e. panning spots, squats etc.). The younger groups keep moving until they can find a place where they can find some semblance of territory. (Webber, 140) Most street kids have some sort of talent such as musical or artistic skill but usually don’t get the chance to fully utilize it. Most times any thing that you own of any kind of value, leather jacket guitar etc. you will have it stolen from you. Some terms used on the street include TWINKIES: Kids who squeegee for kicks during the summer and then go home when the weather gets cold. THE BEATS: Getting beat up. HEAT SCORES: The small minority of squeegee kids who get wrecked and cause trouble for the rest. PUNKED-OFF: Usually gang related, it's when you get kicked out of a street territory and are not allowed to return.
Each street kid is an original with individual persona, miseries, memories, and dreams. Most street kids share certain traits, such as: betrayal, cocky on the outside but inside rock bottom self-esteem, mistrust of almost everyone, feelings of guilt, etc. Where can these people go when they want to leave the streets? They need rent geared to income housing for youth all over Canada. They cannot afford rents and therefore have to stay on the streets to supplement their income. One of the most significant barriers to getting off of the streets is the fact that most social services agencies will not issue a welfare cherub unless someone has a permanent address. For many street kids who pan just enough to eat, saving enough coin for first and last on an apartment is impossible. Street kids tend to fall back into familiar behaviors. One step forward sometimes precedes two steps back, (Webber, 160). I know from personal experience. I have watched friends and clients get a place of their own and lose everything in it due to theft, addictions or personal crises. I could give you countless examples of this from street kids I know and from case files.
Most of these street kids have a low life expectancy. My friend Junior (or Shawn Keegan) was killed in 96 when the guy that had been killing the gay prostitutes in the Wesley area shot him. He had HIV but he was only 18 years old. Most of these kids, depending on their age, do not believe they will make it to age 18, 19, or 21 and once they reach these ages feel as if they are dinosaurs of the streets. Remember most street kids are 12 or 13 when they hit the streets for the first time, looking to run away from their problems, most kids have the street mentality that they are nothing and will never be anything. It takes a lot to change these kids' way of thinking to let them know that they are not what they have been told all of there lives. Even though at the heart of it all these kids really want is their own place, a home to call their own, their own family and someone to unconditionally care about them “but familiar patterns set it in and the lure of the streets is easy to succumb to. Most kids will be transient and go home or get their own apartment but sustaining it with the street being an easier alternative is a trap many of these kids fall into.
That's how easy it is to fall into the trap of the
streets and why so many kids keep returning to the streets after getting
off. It only takes one thing for a street kid to give up and go back to
a place where, other than constant survival, no one expects anything
from you. You can be a failure 'cause no one cares. The streets are not
to be glorified by any means, if you are having problems of any type at
home tell some one and if they don't listen. Tell someone else. The
streets are not something you want to become a part of because the abuse
out on the streets stays with you forever. I just wish more members of
the establishment would take some time to care about the street kids and
maybe quit telling them that we have nothing when they ask for spare
change. It's the way that they survive. Maybe if this world was perfect
and parents never abused their kids and every kid had parents you
wouldn't see so many of them on the streets.
Michuad, M (1988) Dead End: Homeless Teenagers a Multi-service Approach. Detselig Enterprises, Calgary, Alberta
Webber, M (1991) Street Kids: The Tragedy of Canadas Runaways. University of Toronto press, Toronto Buffalo London