UBC Faculty Research and Publications

High prevalence of risky income generation among street-involved youth in a Canadian setting Cheng, Tessa; Kerr, Thomas; Small, Will; Nguyen, Paul; Wood, Evan; DeBeck, Kora


Background: Previous research has found a range of barriers to mainstream employment among street-involved youth; however, less is known about the characteristics of street-involved youth who engage in risky income generation and the potential role of substance use in perpetuating engagement in these activities. Methods: Data were collected between 2005 and 2012 from the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS), which is a prospective cohort study of street-involved youth aged 14–26 in Vancouver, Canada. Generalized estimating equations were used to identify factors associated with risky quasi-legal and illegal income generation. Participants also reported their willingness to give up these sources of income if they were not using drugs. Results: Among 1008 participants, 826 (82%) reported engaging in risky income generation activities during the study period. Factors associated with risky income generation included: homelessness, binge drug use, injection drug use, crack use, crystal methamphetamine, overdose, interactions with police, and experiencing violence; regular employment was negatively associated with this outcome (all p < 0.05). Among those who reported risky income generation, 440 (53%) were willing to give up these income sources if they were not using drugs. Conclusion: Risky income generation was alarmingly prevalent in our sample, and associated with higher intensity drug use and other markers of vulnerability. The majority of participants (53%) reported willingness to give up their risky income sources if they were not using drugs; however, a substantial proportion of youth (47%) indicated that they would continue to engage in risk income generation regardless of their substance use suggesting that both substance use and economic insecurity likely perpetuate risky income generation among our sample. Findings highlight opportunities to reduce risky income generation by addressing problematic substance use through better access and engagement with evidence-based addiction treatment, and exploring, monitoring and evaluating innovative interventions to improve the overall economic security of street-involved youth.

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