Overnight youth safe space opens in Winnipeg's West End
‘It was such an amazing thing,’ Spence Neighbourhood Association executive director says after opening weekend
Kids who had nowhere to go at night in the West End can now head to the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre.
A drop-in centre for youth on Langside Street opened over the weekend, giving kids food to eat and a place to relax.
Jamil Mahmood, executive director of the Spence Neighbourhood Association, said the soft opening was a huge success.
"We still had 18 people come by Friday and 22 on Saturday, so it was awesome," he said.
"They got food. They got connected to resources. They connected with our staff. It was such an amazing thing."
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A crowdfunding campaign raised nearly $37,000 for the project and the province provided $380,000 over three years to sustain the overnight safe space. The City of Winnipeg provided use of the recreation centre.
Mahmood said they expect the numbers to grow as more people find out about the centre. He added that they are also driving around the community at night, connecting with people on the street and handing out sandwiches.
"It's such a good feeling, that peace of mind, knowing that we don't have to force kids out into the street at night," he said. "We can give them that safety and security and love that they need."
The youth had food at 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., watched movies, played video games and were safe, Mahmood said. Workers also put the youth in contact with resources for later in the week when they are able to "work on their housing situation or whatever is leaving them unsafe at night."
The Spence Neighbourhood Association began asking community members for donations not long after the death of Tina Fontaine in 2014. Fontaine, 15, was found dead in the Red River in August 2014. A friend of Fontaine said she was last seen alive in the West End.
In 2010, a six-year-old girl outside the recreation centre between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., after it was closed, was lured away and taken to a nearby residence and assaulted.
Speaking about the tragedies, Mahmood said the space will help prevent those types of situations from happening again.
"You can't repair damage that's been done in the past, but we are going to do our best make sure that no more harm or trauma comes to our kids in the overnight period," he said.
The centre, called the West End 24-hour Safe Space, will be open from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and school holidays. It will be open seven days a week during summer break. The recreation centre also remains open during its regular daytime hours.
West End 24-hour Safe Space is a grassroots movement committed to providing youth a place to go in the West End at night.
Mahmood said donations and volunteers are still needed. For more information visit the Spence Neighbourhood Association website.
- West End 24-hour Safe Space is a grassroots movement and the name of the overnight drop-in centre. The hours it is currently available are limited to weekends and school holidays.Jun 21, 2016 8:03 AM CT