Belinda is one of about 150 people benefiting from a flat-share scheme run by the homeless charity Centrepoint.

The scheme provides a halfway house for youngsters making the transition between living in hostels and renting accommodation. A new building opens this evening in Camden.

The teenager was faced with a stark choice when she left home aged 17. Rather than join London's 'roofless' on the streets, she relied on the patience of friends, who put her up on bedroom floors.

A few weeks later she arrived at a Centrepoint hostel where she stayed for 11 months. Although she found warmth and shelter with the charity, she still yearned for the privacy and freedom of her own 'home'.

Now 18, she bustles around her new flat-share in Primrose Hill - confident and eager to go to college in September. She hopes to enrol on a computer programming course but knows she will have to fund herself. Despite recently losing a temporary job she held as a data preparations clerk with Midland Bank she is still determined to find work.

Daily she scours the small ads and contacts a wide range of companies to ask for summer employment.

Belinda drew on her cigarette and shook her head when asked about her childhood and why she left home. 'I don't want to talk about that if it's all right,' she said. 'I just had to leave.'

She is more keen to note how different her life is now to when she lived in the hostel.

'We had to be in at eight o'clock every night, go to bed at a certain time and get up and out of our rooms between seven and nine in the morning because they had cleaners coming in,' she said.

'I know they did it for our own safety, but you didn't have any freedom to do things you wanted. Now it's great. I can stay out late and everything. We can come and go as we please.'

Belinda said she would still be homeless if not for Centrepoint.

Jenny Shorter, the charity's spokeswoman, finds it difficult to celebrate the opening of new flats.

'In one way it's good because seven more homeless youngsters from our hostels can begin to look after themselves,' she said. 'But it is our 25th anniversary this year, so it's sad because it means the demand for homeless places is increasing.'

Those moving to the Camden flats can stay for up to two years and are then helped to find more permanent homes.

(Photograph omitted)