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Increases and decreases in drug use attributed to housing status among street-involved youth in a Canadian setting

Tessa Cheng12, Evan Wood13, Paul Nguyen1, Thomas Kerr13 and Kora DeBeck14*

Author Affiliations

1 Urban Health Research Initiative, British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, St. Paul's Hospital, 608-1081 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6, Canada

2 Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Blusson Hall, Room 11300, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada

3 Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, 317-2194 Health Sciences Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z3, Canada

4 School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University, 515 West Hastings Street, Suite 3271, Vancouver, BC V6B 5K3, Canada

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Harm Reduction Journal 2014, 11:12  doi:10.1186/1477-7517-11-12

Published: 10 April 2014



Among a cohort of drug-using street-involved youth, we sought to identify the prevalence of reporting increases and decreases in illicit drug use due to their current housing status and to identify factors associated with reporting these changes.


This longitudinal study was based on data collected between June 2008 and May 2012 from a prospective cohort of street-involved youth aged 14–26 in Vancouver, Canada. At semi-annual study follow-up visits, youth were asked if their drug use was affected by their housing status. Using generalized estimating equations, we identified factors associated with perceived increases and decreases in drug use attributed to housing status. Among our sample of 536 participants at baseline, 164 (31%) youth reported increasing their drug use due to their housing situation and 71 (13%) reported decreasing their drug use. In multivariate analysis, factors that were positively associated with perceived increases in drug use attributed to housing status included the following: being homeless, engaging in sex work and drug dealing. Regular employment was negatively associated with increasing drug use due to housing status. Among those who reported decreasing their drug use, only homelessness was significant in bivariate analysis.


Perceived changes in drug use due to housing status were relatively common in this setting and were associated with being homeless and, among those who increased their drug use, engaging in risky income generation activities. These findings suggest that structural factors, particularly housing and economic opportunities, may be crucial interventions for reducing or limiting drug use among street-involved youth.

Homelessness; Drug use; Street-involved youth; Stable housing; Risk behaviour; Employment