When homeless youth find themselves without a means to support themselves, they are often forced to develop coping mechanisms that put their health and safety at risk. These coping mechanisms can take the form of transactional sex and sex work, experiences which can be traumatic and have lasting implications on the lives of youth, due to emotional trauma and physical abuse. These youth also increase their exposure to sexually transmitted infection that may occur as a result of their participation in the sex trade. 

As this infographic points out, youth who are experiencing homelessness may be particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to their need for housing, as well as possible feelings of loneliness and isolation. It is startling that in the United States one study has shown that “over half” of young women experiencing homelessness were involved with a prostitution network.

When designing programs for youth experiencing homelessness, it is important to take into account the possibility that youth may have encountered any number of traumatic events. Services should be available ‘on demand’ for youth who exhibit signs of posttraumatic stress or, even just need a non-judgemental person to speak to. In addition, workers should be trained in what to do when youth or children disclose this sort of information to them.

One of the ways to address this immediately is to have adequate housing for youth and young people, so that the systemic experience of homelessness no longer exists.

The infographic below (and accompanying webpage) were created by Covenant House (USA). While the information focuses on the US context, it is certainly a reality for people experiencing homelessness in Canada as well.