Winnipeg's 24-hour safe place for youth to be named after Tina Fontaine

At-risk youth in Winnipeg will soon have a 24-hour safe place to go, seven days a week, and it will be named after Tina Fontaine.

Great-aunt says teen who died in 2014 wanted to work with children

The body of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg on Aug. 17, 2014. It was wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks. Her death remains unsolved. (Tina Fontaine/Facebook)

At-risk youth in Winnipeg will soon have a 24-hour safe place to go, seven days a week, and it will be named after Tina Fontaine.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced on Tuesday that Ottawa will spend close to $350,000 to expand the Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre's services this year and then another $280,000 in annual ongoing funding.

"It's a little bit more this year to get some of the initial pieces set up for the program. But it will provide the ability to have people here, to make sure the doors are always open," she said.

"There are trained staff that can be here to greet young people to help them find their way through whatever issues they may be facing."

The centre will provide a safe alternative to the streets for youth who are in need of immediate support and resources, a release from the federal government states.

The expanded centre on Selkirk Avenue will be dedicated to Fontaine, the 15-year-old girl whose body was found in the Red River in 2014. Her case helped spark the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry.

"Tina's story is one that has, I hope, touched all Canadians in terms of recognizing the fragility of young people and we're all, I hope, aware of the incredible numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls," Philpott said.

She noted that people in Winnipeg told her they already knew some of what is needed to help and did not want to wait for the final MMIWG inquiry report before doing something.

"We're not waiting, none of us are. In Tina's spirit today you are taking action, you are finding a way to provide a safe space for young people in this city," Philpott said.

Joe Favel, left, and his wife Thelma, right, along with Tina’s sister, second from right, pose for a photo with the art piece students created in honour of Tina Fontaine at the Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)

Thelma Favel, Fontaine's great-aunt, said she is moved by the gesture and encouraged by the expansion of Ndinawe's services.

"We are happy that there will be a safe place for young people in Winnipeg. We are honoured that Tina will not be forgotten and other young children will be safe," she said. "It was Tina's dream to work with children. She always said the children were our future.

"She would have been my future and she would have made a big difference if she was allowed to."