ITHACA, N.Y. — On average, about 34 percent of homeless youths in the Tompkins County area say they have carried a weapon for security against threats they face either in their homes or on the streets, according to a new report.

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An independent survey was published earlier this year by the non-profit group The Learning Web (Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly called the non-profit “Learning the Web”) that was geared toward identifying and understanding the needs of homeless youth in Tompkins County.

The survey, which was conducted through interviews with homeless individuals in the area, reported on the high percentage of displaced youths who are pregnant or parenting as well as the frequency of violence in their lives.

For these homeless youths, the feeling of safety is a luxury not often found in their homes or on the streets.

“While many report never having been in any situations where they felt unsafe in the past year, some have been in unsafe and dangerous situations, sometimes even daily,” the report stated. “Respondents reported these situations happening both in the home and on the street. Others stated that they preferred not to talk about it.”

What did the survey show?

The survey revealed:

An excerpt from the report with quotes from surveyed teens.

— Threatened or injured | Almost 33 percent of respondents have been threatened or injured with a weapon during the past year.

For 9 percent of the youths, this has happened four or more times in the past year.

On average, 34 percent of respondents reported carrying a weapon. Of those who do not, 13 percent felt like they needed to.

— Sense of vulnerability | Researchers explained that in addition to an actual threat of violence, there is a growing sense of vulnerability that these youths experience.

A greater proportion of the younger respondents, between the ages of 13 and 20, carry a weapon, know people who carry guns or have been threatened or injured with a weapon up to 6 times in the last year.

— Threatened with weapon | The survey found that the percentage of respondents who had been threatened or injured with a weapon in the past year (33 percent) is the lowest that it has been since 2007 (44 percent).

Rather than a reflection that the Tompkins County community is actually safer than it was in 2007, the research team felt that this drop was due to the differences in the youth sampled in the various research waves.

Quotes from youth | The survey quotes anonymous youths who opened up about past violence they had experienced. One individual said, “[When I was] walking home after dark, a man came up to me and threatened to stab me with a knife. I was also chased and followed by a red truck while I was walking.”


Researchers at The Learning Web emphasized that programs designed to work with the homeless youth of Tompkins County will not be effective unless the leaders of such organizations understand the uncertain and unsafe situation these displaced young people experience every day.

The report can be read in full here.

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