Homeless "squeegee kids": Food insecurity and daily survival

  • Dachner N
  • Tarasuk V
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Current knowledge about food insecurity in North America is largely based on research with low-income households. Much less is known about the food experiences of homeless people, a group who are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. This study explored the food experiences of street youth, one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population in Canada. To gain an in-depth understanding of food insecurity within the context of daily life, ethnographic research was undertaken with street youth at one inner-city drop-in centre in Toronto, Canada. Results of this study reveal that street youth's access to food was precarious amidst the instability and chaos of street life. The day-to-day lives of the street youth encountered in this study were characterized by a constant struggle to find safe, secure shelter, generate income, and obtain sufficient food. In this context, food was a precious commodity. Food access was inextricably linked to and contingent upon conditions of health, shelter, and income. Food access was precarious since everyday food sources-purchased food and charitable food assistance-were ultimately insecure. "Squeegeeing" (washing car windows), the primary source of income for youth in the study, was dependent on the weather, political and public will, and youth's physical health, and thus did not generate enough money to continuously meet basic food needs. Charitable food assistance was considered poor quality and was associated with food sickness. The often unsavoury atmosphere of charitable food programmes, their locations, capacity, and idiosyncratic rules, policies, and hours of operation also affected access. Findings from this study extend the current understanding of food insecurity to homeless youth and offer insight into current responses to hunger and homelessness. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Ethnography
  • Food insecurity
  • Homelessness
  • Poverty
  • Street youth

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  • Naomi Dachner

  • Valerie Tarasuk

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