She sat on the bed in the shelter and started to cry. Lia Grimanis was 16 years old and homeless after fleeing from a violent home. “That night I decided I would become a role model. I wanted to be the person that came back to the shelter and said, ‘I made it’.”

From a shelter to welfare to starting her own business, Lia worked quickly. She moved into technology sales and was soon making $250,000 a year. Fifteen years passed and she was respected and successful beyond her wildest dreams but she still wasn’t ready to tell her story.

Lia’s turning point came one night while at a public meeting near her home in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood. People were upset a homeless shelter was being opened down the street. Finally Lia stood up and said, “Look at my face. Look at me. I was homeless.” The room fell silent and people stared. Finally, the man leading the meeting said, “With all due respect Lia, you’re an anomaly.” Then he went back to his tirade against the shelter.

The next day Lia launched a website called Up with Women where people could share their stories. The media started requesting interviews as she launched programs and began to re-frame the experience of homelessness.

Lia recently quit her well-paying job in sales and is now focusing on Up With Women. She’s living off of her savings but that doesn’t faze Grimanis.

“I’ve lived frugally before and I’ll do it again.”

Now, when she walks through the door of any shelter she is an inspiration to everyone in the room. Lia Grimanis can finally say, “I made it.”

Homelessness in Canada


  • The Canadian government estimates there are 150,000 homeless people

  • Non-government sources say there are between 200,000 – 300,000 homeless people in Canada

  • Toronto has the largest homeless population in the country

  • Calgary’s homeless population grew 740% between 1994 and 2006

  • Vancouver’s number of homeless seniors nearly tripled between 2002 and 2005

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