For Kristina Beaton, homelessness meant freedom.

At 16, she moved away from her home province, Prince Edward Island, to live with her mother's ex-husband in Ottawa.

"He said he wouldn't hurt me. When I got there, he and his fiancee, it felt like they tricked me. So right before finals they put me in a shelter," the now 25-year-old told Ottawa Morning's Catharine Tunney.

She soon moved in to the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa's young women's shelter.

'It felt like I was finally given my right as a human being to not be hurt or mentally abused.' - Kristina Beaton

"It smells like grandma's cooking," says Beaton. "They gave me hand when I didn't have one."

This week the shelter is celebrating 20 years of helping young women like Beaton.

When it first opened in 1995, there was no shelter in Ottawa just for teenagers. On their 16th birthday teens grow out of the province's child aid services, but aren't yet eligible for some adult services.

At the time the Salvation Army had a floor for youth, but that meant young women had to cross paths with men much older than them.

"If you were 16 or 17 there was no place for you to go. You had to couch surf [and] you probably had to live in unsafe situations. You probably traded sex for somewhere to live," says shelter co-ordinator Sue Pihlainen.

Unsafe homes

Pihlainen says some of their residents have been abandoned by their families or are escaping homes plagued by addiction and abuse.

"They're not here because they don't like the rules at home and they don't want a curfew. They're here because their family home is not a safe place," said Pihlainen.

"They need a sense of belonging, a sense of community and a place to live that's decent."

Today, the LGBT-friendly shelter offers emergency beds and transitional housing for up to 32 teens. Already this year they've seen more than 100 girls come through.

Since it first opened, the shelter has helped thousands of girls, some as young as 12.

'I felt safer'

For Beaton, her stay at the shelter was a chance to realize her self-worth.

"I felt safer. No one was able to hit me or do anything to me after that," said Beaton. "I had my rights, you know? It felt like I was finally given my right as a human being to not be hurt or mentally abused. That was important to me."

After living in the shelter, Beaton has now graduated to the youth service's long term homes.

She has gone on to study animation in college, and says she has dreams of working as a director, drawing storyboards.

"You can start your life from scratch," Beaton said. "Your whole future is ahead of you."


  • A previous version of this article said that Kristina Beaton moved to Ottawa to live with her mother's ex-boyfriend. He is, in fact, her mother's ex-husband. A previous version of this article incorrectly said she finished high school and went on to study graphic design. She did not complete high school but went on to study animation.
    Sep 26, 2015 9:16 AM ET