Tina Fontaine's dreams coming true with 24/7 refuge for Winnipeg teens

Ndinawe has expanded its youth drop-in centre to be open 24/7 in honour of Tina Fontaine, who was killed in 2014.

Tina's Safe Haven, a 24/7 drop-in at Ndinawe, officially opened Monday

Thelma and Joe Favel, Tina Fontaine's great-aunt and uncle, chose the name "Tina's Safe Haven" for the new 24/7 drop in at Ndinawe. (Lyzaville Sale/ CBC)

Tina Fontaine's great-aunt, Thelma Favel, wiped away tears of joy when a sign bearing the teen's name was unveiled Monday.

Tina's Safe Haven is officially open on Selkirk Avenue, as a 24-hour, seven days a week drop-in centre for youth.

"Tina will wrap her arms around anybody who walks through those doors," said Favel. "They will always feel that safety net."

Fontaine was 15-years-old when her body was pulled from the Red River in August 2014.

"It was always Tina's dream to help other kids, her dream is coming true today," said Favel. "This place will always be here for kids and no one can get lost now."

Favel called Child and Family Services for help when Fontaine started acting out after her father's murder.

Ndinawe's executive director, Tammy Christensen, said the organization had contact with Fonatine before her death. She stayed at Ndinawe's temporary shelter and her bed was ultimately given away after she missed her curfew a second time.

Tina Fontaine was 15-years-old when her body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg on Aug. 17, 2014. (Tina Fontaine/Facebook)
A worker testified at the Raymond Cormier second degree murder trial that she reported Fontaine missing to police.

In February, a jury acquitted Cormier and the crown said it would not appeal the verdict.

"We feel if there had been a resource like this at that time, there could have been a different outcome for her," said Christensen.

In March, the federal government committed close to $350,000 this year to expand the drop-in services to 24/7 and then another $280,000 in annual ongoing funding.

The centre was renovated and now has a gaming room, technology room, and cultural room. 

"We also really worked to meet their basic needs.. we have a full kitchen so we make sure they eat, multiple times throughout the day," said Christensen. "We do have mats so if they come in and they're really tired, they can rest their heads."

Qajaq Robinson and Brian Eyolfson, commissioners for the National Inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous woman and girls attended the grand opening of Tina's Safe Haven on invitation by Favel.

Robinson said she's heard about the need for safe spaces like this during testimony across the country.

"It's wonderful to see the work of Ndinawe is being supported by the federal government and is being recognized as a best practice for promoting safety and security for Indigenous girls," she said.

10 years in the making

Christensen said Ndinawe has been calling for and working toward a 24/7 safe space since 2007.

"Prior to us being open 24/7, we would find young people, even behind our dumpsters...waiting for us to open the door," she said.

The centre has been operating around the clock since the federal funding became available in March and already they are seeing a difference. Between 15 to 20 youth are staying at Tina's Safe Haven through the night. 

"We see a number of consistent kids, we are able to build those relationships with them, we're able to build trust and really be able to understand what their personal situations are," said Christensen.

Ndinawe is working on developing specific addictions supports for youth. She said it works on a harm reduction model, meeting the youth at their level and providing non-judgemental support. 

She said right now there is a verbal commitment for ongoing funding to keep the centre open 24/7.

"It's needed, there is no question in our community, it's needed."

A new safe space for teens opened Monday in honour of Tina Fontaine. The drop in centre is open 24/7 to make sure youth always have somewhere to go. 2:14

About the Author

Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been reporting for a decade. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor