Meet the ‘squeegee punks’ of Canada and other squeegee groups in cities beyond Baltimore

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Baltimore leaders unveiled last week the latest plan to address the city’s “squeegee kids" presence, but several other cities around the world have struggled with their own groups of windshield cleaners.

Places including New York City, Canada and the United Kingdom have all seen over decades their share of squeegee workers, some of whom were reportedly adults. Baltimore’s squeegee populations appear to be predominantly youth or young adults.


Each locale’s reckoning with squeegee workers took unique turns, and some found successful strategies for reducing their appearance at intersections.

Here are a few examples:


New York City’s “squeegee men"

New Yorkers saw an onslaught of “squeegee men” in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1993, then-mayoral candidate Rudolph Giuliani campaigned to crackdown on squeegee operators, the New York Times reported at the time.

When Giuliani took office, he promoted the “broken windows" theory of policing — a theory that argues visible signs of disorder or blight promotes future disorder and criminal behavior. Leaning on that theory, police pursued criminal citations or charges against the “squeegee men," who eventually disappeared from city streets.

The “squeegee men” of that era are now somewhat rare in New York, though a flurry of media buzz sometimes occurs when a worker is occasionally spotted.

Canada’s “squeegee punks”

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called the country’s squeegee workers the “Artful Dodgers of the 1990s.” Some in Montreal came to be nicknamed “squeegee punks” for their distinctive clothes and hair styles.

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Several Canadian cities including Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary also had populations of “squeegee kids” manning intersections with window cleaner in hand over the years.

In 1999, the Ontario government passed the Safe Streets Act, which made squeegeeing and panhandling illegal. The province of British Columbia later adopted a similar measure banning squeegee kids from soliciting, the CBC reported in 2005.

However, human rights groups and advocates for the chronically homeless have waged notable campaigns in recent years to repeal the Safe Streets legislation, arguing it unfairly penalized those struggling with poverty.

A 2001 documentary film “S.P.I.T.: Squeegee Punks in Traffic” captured the experience of the young squeegee workers on Toronto’s streets.


U.K.’s “squeegee merchants”

A London city council announced in 1999 plans to dispatch a team of 12 inspectors and police to crack down on squeegee merchants who asked for payment for cleaning motorists’ windshields, according to the BBC. Some squeegee offenders were prosecuted for trading without a license.

But squeegee merchants have also been spotted in other U.K. cities.

Leaders in the second-most populous British city Birmingham said in 2017 they feared the women and children who cleaned car windshields at intersections might be the victims of exploitation, according to The Express.