Sector News

  1. Risky Income Activities of Vancouver’s Street- Youth


    Due to unemployment and poverty, street-involved youth may turn to risky activities such as sex work, salvaging/recycling, squeegeeing car windows for donations, panhandling, drug dealing, theft and other criminal activities to generate income. The authors used a prospective cohort design (2005 – 2012) to study risky employment of street-involved youth in Vancouver.

    Street-involved: recently homeless or having used services designated for street-youth in the last year.


    • Of the 1008 participants during the 6-year study, 735 (73%) reported engaging in risky income generation activities at their baseline study visit, and 826 (82%) participants reported engaging in risky income generation activities at some point during the study period.
    • Those with intense addition such as binge drug use, injection drug use, and drug overdose were more likely to engage in risky income generating activities. Since this finding is substantiated in previous research, reducing the intensity of substance use may be an opportunity to reduce risky income generation.
    • A sub-analysis of 825 participants found that 63% mentioned “dealing drugs” as an income generation activity.
    • Approximately 53% (n=440) said they would be willing to give up a source of risky income if they were not using drugs. The need for income to fund drug ongoing drug use is a key factor perpetuating risky income generating activities.
    • Youth who recently attended addiction treatment were significantly more willing to give up their risky income generating activities if they did not use drugs.
    • Still, a large proportion, 47%, said they would persist with their risky income sources regardless of substance use. Based on this, we know that substance use is not the only factor pushing youth to engage in risky income generation.
    • The role of age in influencing substance use and income generation trajectories should also be explored as the authors found older age to be associated with willingness to give up risky income sources.
    • Income assistance programs in the current study setting have high barriers to access and do not provide adequate financial support to meet basic survival need.
    • Overall, there is limited availability and access to economically sufficient legal income sources in the participant’s environment. This highlights the need to explore ways to reduce the economic vulnerability of youth.


    The high prevalence of risky income generating activities among street involved youth, particularly those who use drugs, highlights the need for policy-makers to address deficiencies in accesses to timely addiction treatment for youth. However, the large percentage of youth who still intended to participate in risky income generation activities suggests a need to evaluate structural interventions to target the economic vulnerability of youth.

    Cheng, T., Kerr, T., Small, W., Nguyen, P., Wood, E., and DeBeck, K. (2016). High prevalence of risky income generation among street-involved youth in a Canadian setting. International Drug Policy People. Vol. 28, pp. 91-97.