03/27/2018 16:48 EDT | Updated 03/27/2018 19:13 EDT

Winnipeg Youth Shelter Dedicated To Tina Fontaine

The federal government announced almost $350,000 for the Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre.

WINNIPEG — A 24-hour safe space for youth is being dedicated to the memory of a 15-year-old Manitoba Indigenous girl whose body was found in the Red River.

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced almost $350,000 in funding Tuesday to expand the program at Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre in Winnipeg.

Tina's great-aunt, Thelma Favel, said the family worked with local organizations and the federal government to get the funding in her honour.

"It was Tina's dream to work with children and that's why we decided a safe haven would be good in her honour," Favel said.

"She always said the children were our future ... and she would have made a big difference if she was allowed to."

Jim Rankin/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Joe and Thelma Favel hold a framed tribute to their niece, Tina Fontaine, who was murdered in Winnipeg at age 15.

The resource centre was unable to stay open because it didn't have funding to keep staff around the clock, said Ndinawe director Tammy Christensen.

"Our young people are seeking safety on park benches, in bus depots, in stairwells. We've even found young people sleeping out behind the garbage bins waiting for us to open the doors," Christensen said.

She always said the children were our future ... and she would have made a big difference if she was allowed to.Thelma Favel

The increase in funding will go towards staff salaries, food, laundry and other supplies the centre needs so kids can drop in any time and feel safe, she said.

The money will help make sure the safety and security of children is paramount, Christensen added.

Tina was from the Sagkeeng First Nation, but left her home in the summer of 2014 to reconnect with her birth mother in Winnipeg. The teen soon became sexually exploited and repeatedly ran away from hotels where social workers had placed her, as well as from the Ndinawe youth shelter, which is run by the same organization as the resource centre.

She was last seen leaving a hotel Aug. 8. Her body was found just over a week later wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down by rocks in the river.

Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre
Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre is seen in Winnipeg.

"This story is one of the most profound examples of the shame of Canada — the denial of the rights of Indigenous Peoples that have led us to the circumstances that led to what happened," Philpott said.

"It is, in many ways, a sign of the neglect that has taken place for generations in Canada and how we as Canadians did not learn properly how to live together in peace and harmony in this place ... But the story is changing. I believe we are in a period of reconciliation."

The man accused of killing Tina, Raymond Cormier, was found not guilty of second-degree murder in February.

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