Background: The prevalence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among street-involved youth greatly exceed that of the general adolescent population; however, little is known regarding the structural factors that influence disease transmission risk among this population.
Methods: Between September 2005 and October 2006, 529 street-involved youth were enroled in a prospective cohort known as the At Risk Youth Study (ARYS). We examined structural factors associated with number of sex partners using quasi-Poisson regression and consistent condom use using logistic regression.
Results: At baseline, 415 (78.4%) were sexually active, of whom 253 (61.0%) reported multiple sex partners and 288 (69.4%) reported inconsistent condom use in the past six months. In multivariate analysis, self-reported barriers to health services were inversely associated with consistent condom use (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 0.52, 95%CI: 0.25 - 1.07). Structural factors that were associated with greater numbers of sex partners included homelessness (adjusted incidence rate ratio [aIRR] = 1.54, 95%CI: 1.11 - 2.14) and having an area restriction that affects access to services (aIRR = 2.32, 95%CI: 1.28 - 4.18). Being searched or detained by the police was significant for males (aIRR = 1.36, 95%CI: 1.02 - 1.81).
Conclusion: Although limited by its cross-sectional design, our study found several structural factors amenable to policy-level interventions independently associated with sexual risk behaviours. These findings imply that the criminalization and displacement of street-involved youth may increase the likelihood that youth will engage in sexual risk behaviours and exacerbate the negative impact of resultant health outcomes. Moreover, our findings indicate that environmental-structural interventions may help to reduce the burden of these diseases among street youth in urban settings.