Photo Essay

Street Youth...Their Story!

First Night on the Street...1st of Street Youth Series

In 1992, I was asked by the United Church of Canada to produce a photo essay about street youth for display at a major conference it was hosting. I spent 3 weeks working on the project, mainly at night and the early hours of the morning. Throughout this period, I made many friends and the kids were so open and giving that it was heartwaming. I still think of them from time to time. Where are they now? Some are probably dead. Nevertheless, they will not be forgotten!

The street youth population is diverse, complex and heterogeneous. The generic term "street youth" is made up of a number of subcultures (by no means mutually exclusive) including hard-core street entrenched young people, squatters, group home kids, child welfare kids, soft-core 'twinkies', "in-and-outers', punks, runaways, throwaways, refugees and immigrants, young single mothers, and those who are homeless because their entire family are homeless. Within these makeshift 'categories' are numerous descriptors that tend to signal street activities such as gang bangers, prostitutes, drug dealers, drug users, panhandlers, and squeegeeers. While there is considerable diversity in the age ranges considered by researchers, providers and policy makers to define street youth, 16 - 24 years of age is accepted by many as reflects both the age limits of many services and the age range of the social networks of many youths. Street youths are generally understood to be young individuals who do not have a permanent place to call home, and who instead, spend significant amount of time/energy on the street (e.g., in alleyways, parks, storefronts, dumpsters, etc.); in squats (located usually in abandoned buildings); at youth shelters and centres; and/or with friends (typically referred to as "couch surfers").

27 responses

  • Davide Simone

    Davide Simone (Deleted) said (11 Aug 2012):

    James, you made a masterpiece

  • Susan Littlefield

    Susan Littlefield gave props (11 Aug 2012):

    Your essay touched my heart in so many ways. In our small town, there are no scenes like this played out. You've given me a scary yet poignant look into a world heretofore unknown to me. An outstanding essay!!

  • Sonia Adam Murray

    Sonia Adam Murray gave props (12 Aug 2012):

    Bravo James, I am so glad that you made this into a story and hopefully people will look at this story take heed and start to find solutions. This most definitely should be published as it is a very sad, poignant and emotive situation!!! How can we allow our young to be homeless??? Thank you for writing this!!!!!

  • Saroj Swain

    Saroj Swain gave props (13 Aug 2012):

    Yes it is superb!!! Vote my friend!!!

  • JPG

    JPG gave props (13 Aug 2012):

    Story of the Week!

  • Davide Simone

    Davide Simone (Deleted) said (13 Aug 2012):

    James, Compliments STORY OF THE WEEK, I VOTE FOR YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Carol Arntsen Masiak

    Carol Arntsen Masiak gave props (13 Aug 2012):

    congrats - fabulous!

  • Donna Mullins

    Donna Mullins (Deleted) gave props (13 Aug 2012):

    congratulations James on story of the week. An enlightening message and absolutely stunning photos! Well deserved.

  • James Wiley

    James Wiley said (13 Aug 2012):

    Thank you all for the accolades. However, this is about much more than an award for me. It is about those kids I photographed and homeless people of all ages. This essay was created for exhibit at a major conference on the subject. A conference that involved policy makers and people who have the power to make a difference in first world countries worldwide. A conference that lasted one week, supposedly to help find solutions. Everyone who attended saw my work and everyone who attended knows exactly what's going on out there. This was twenty years ago folks. Do you see any change?

  • Susan Littlefield

    Susan Littlefield said (14 Aug 2012):

    I knew it would be a winner! Congratulations! Well deserved.

  • Deborah Downes

    Deborah Downes gave props (14 Aug 2012):

    Knew this powerful series would get the attention it deserves, James. I choose to believe it brought about at least some positive change. Even if it only bettered the life of one of those street kids, I'd say your work made an important contribution to society.

  • Aaron Schwartz

    Aaron Schwartz gave props (14 Aug 2012):

    Susan took the words right out of my mouth. Congrats!

  • Jason Platt

    Jason Platt gave props (14 Aug 2012):

    Massive Congrats!!!

  • Robert Versteegen

    Robert Versteegen (Deleted) said (14 Aug 2012):

    Good story and great shots well done

  • Yaz Hawkins

    Yaz Hawkins said (16 Aug 2012):

    It's almost a sordid subject for today's state of social affairs. It's twisted,complex and extremely complicated for politicians and many policy makers to get involved, immerse, as the situation requires. It's a deep and delicate subject. There's no will to tackle the real problem, the great Family failure in our modern society. Money won't resolve it, it just help momentarily, of that I'm sure but it's nothing more that a money pit. Well, it's a great essay nonetheless, well deserved award, James!

  • Heather Mellon

    Heather Mellon said (17 Aug 2012):

    Congratulations on story of the week, James! An excellent and eye-opening series on the realities of life on the street. I agree with Yaz, that it`s such a complex situation and the powers that be can only extend funding and services to help alleviate the problems on certain levels, but indeed, they have a responsibility to ACT on what they can do to assist. The root of the problem is as complex as each and every street person`s story, and therein lies the solution. Ominous to say the least..

  • Mojca Savicki

    Mojca Savicki gave props (20 Aug 2012):

    Congrats James!!! :)

  • Lynn E. Harvey

    Lynn E. Harvey gave props (20 Aug 2012):

    Congratulations James. This is so poignant and although a number of years ago, it is very germane to our society today. It contiues to give us the 'wake-up call' that is much needed.Brilliant work.

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (21 Aug 2012):

    So wonderful! Congrats on story of week 33! Well deserved!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (23 Aug 2012):

    Congrats on making Story of the Week!

  • Kellie

    Kellie gave props (27 Aug 2012):

    Thank you for this essay and congratulations on story of the week!

  • Shannon Burch

    Shannon Burch gave props (26 Sep 2012):

    SO touching!

  • Tomma Henckel

    Tomma Henckel gave props (29 Sep 2012):

    This is wonderful, timely, necessary, sad! I hope that it helps open up our eyes and work on solutions. Thank you!

  • Chris Jennings

    Chris Jennings said (3 Nov 2012):

    Congratulations on making this such a compelling documentary. It is sympathetic without being sentimental. I hope it is getting a wide audience out side the photographic community.

  • JamesHarmon McQuilkin

    JamesHarmon McQuilkin   gave props (6 Dec 2012):

    powerful to the 10th

  • Saroj Swain

    Saroj Swain gave props (8 Jul 2013):

    OUTSTANDING SHOTS well deserved story of the week 33!!! Vote

  • Carlos Aviles

    Carlos Aviles gave props (20 Jul 2013):

    Great essay

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