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Closing the Distance for Street Youth

This is an exercise on applying the "closing the distance" lens to the living conditions of part of the street youth population in order to analyze the ways in which they experience exclusion and distancing in their lives. This exercise uses a short videotape "It's only a window wash . . ." (12 minutes) in which fourteen "squeegee" youth talk about their struggle to survive the streets of Toronto. Please read the "Before viewing the video" below and try out your own "distancing" analysis of this group of young people.

SPNO and the SEII Project wish to thank the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto for their advocacy work on this issue and for allowing the use of "It's only a window wash . . ." for this exercise.

An introduction to the video
(Please right-click on one of the following links and choose "Save Target As..."):

Low Resolution (0.8 MB)
High Resolution (1.9 MB)

Before watching the video "It's only a window wash . . . "

In the summer of 1998, the City of Toronto Council led by the mayor was prepared to pass by-laws for stronger police action to remove young people who were "squeegeeing" car windows on street corners for spare change.

This led to a community advocacy campaign over the next three months that resulted in City Council voting funds for an alternative program that provided social stabilization, education and skill training for employment to squeegee youth who voluntarily chose to register. Although the Province of Ontario passed legislation in late 1999 that took punitive action against squeegeeing, the alternative street youth program in Toronto remains operational and has been positively evaluated for the difference it has made in the lives of many street youth.

One of the resources used in the community advocacy campaign was a short (twelve minute) videotape in which squeegee youth tell something about why they are on the street, how they support themselves, and how they see their futures. Their stories told in their own words and with insights from street workers who know them provide a good opportunity to test out the "distancing dimensions" of social inclusion/exclusion.

Review the "Closing the Distance Chart" that summarizes the six dimensions of distancing people from being full members of the community and society. Watch the video and see how the stories of these young people reflect the various forms of distancing.

The Movie - "It's only a window wash . . . "

Please right-click on one of the following links and choose "Save Target As..." to download the movie to your local harddrive.

Low Resolution (4.8 MB)
High Resolution (8.5 MB)

After watching the video

Did you identify many of the distancing examples from the video noted in the "Street Youth Distancing Chart"? What additional examples did you note?

A reflection on the video
(Please right-click on one of the following links and choose "Save Target As..."):

Low Resolution (1.1 MB)
High Resolution (2.2 MB)

The interesting thing about applying this exercise to the squeegee youth video is that it shows well the multi-dimensionality of social inclusion/exclusion. There is an inter-connectedness across the distancing dimensions for these street kids. Look at how the distancing that they experience becomes compounded.

  • Is the main problem of these street kids "economic" to begin with? Actually, it seems for many that they encountered poverty only when they could no longer stay in their family homes, suggesting that the source of their path to exclusion is "relational" distancing from stable family life (Survey research done with 86 of these street kids in conjunction with the video showed that about three-quarters of them were on the street because of physical and even sexual abuse in the home).
  • Without stable family homes, these kids find it difficult to stay in school, thus encountering barriers to their "functional/developmental" needs. They are distanced from the education system that would enable them to develop their skills and talents. Remember the young man who said - "You can't squeegee and go to school".
  • No family, out of school, these kids end up on the street. Living on rooftops, in parks and under bridges and all forms of unsafe and unprotected public spaces, they experience "spatial" distancing from any decent standard of private or family living accommodation.
  • Left to their own devices, they try to survive by squeegeeing at street corners. But, political action to chase them off the streets is another form of both "spatial" and "functional" distancing. Not only are they threatened with removal from public space, but they also face losing one of the few means they have to support themselves. (Research on street youth shows that when kids are chased off the streets, they are more likely to fall into criminal activity like drug running, theft, prostitution, etc.).
  • All of the above just reinforces the poverty of street youth ("economic" distancing). And, clearly, they have no political voice ("political" or "participatory" distancing). Only when supported by community leaders to tell their story could they help change the situation that they confronted in the summer of 1998.

Clearly, helping people close the distance between themselves and the communities they should be part of is a complex and multi-faceted undertaking.

© Social Planning Network of Ontario