20. Policing Street Youth in Toronto

In this chapter we draw on research conducted with 244 homeless youth and discuss the frequent interactions these young people have with law enforcement officials in Toronto and the effect this has on their experiences of being homeless in the city. We argue that the current response to homelessness – that is, one that focuses on emergency services like shelters, drop-in centres, and food programs – does little to prevent and/or move people out of homelessness. While these social programs are necessary and helpful, they often have the unintended consequence of making homelessness – and homeless individuals – more visible to the general public and the police. Lacking access to private spaces, homeless persons spend much of their time in public areas, such as parks and city streets. In Toronto, as in many other cities, this visibility is met with a law-and-order response. This response does not go unnoticed by the young people confronted by it. Our research shows quite clearly that street youth in Toronto have frequent interactions with police officers. In this chapter we examine three questions related to these interactions. Given that the literature consistently shows street youth are more likely to be involved in crime than their housed peers, we ask to what extent our participants are involved in crime and delinquent acts. Secondly, we question whether the increased police attention they receive is due to their involvement in crime, and if not, what other factors might account for their frequent encounters. Finally, we ask what short and long term consequences exist for these young people as a result of their encounters with law enforcement.

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Gaetz, Stephen
O’Grady, Bill
Buccieri, Kristy
Karabanow, Jeff
Marsolais, Allyson
Publication Date: 
Canadian Observatory On Homelessness