Perfect youth

Portage Place Shopping Centre continues to attract runaways

Everyday, police are out searching for runaways - boys and girls who flee from their homes for days at a time. The story of Tina Fontaine, a runaway who was reported missing and later found dead in the Red River, is a tragic reminder of the urgency of finding these children. 

Many runaways, including Fontaine, are known to head to downtown Winnipeg; in particular they go to Portage Place
Shopping Centre. 

The mall has one of the largest bus stops in Winnipeg, and its stores - comparably less expensive than Polo Park Shopping Centre - appeal to runaways with only a couple dollars to spend. 

Louise Frame, who works at Buck or Two, claims seeing runaways at the shopping centre is common. 

“Sometimes I’ll see on Facebook … people that run away, and they look familiar because I’ve seen them in the store. They hang out here a lot,” Frame, an employee of 13 years, explains.

Frame says runaways like to come into the store for food and drinks, and though some will pay, many shoplift.

Abdul Durar, who works at a cell phone kiosk, says he hasn’t had issues with runaways until recently when a young girl asked him about a used cell phone. She told him that she worked for Child and Family Services, and had just finished a
12-hour shift. 

Durar told the girl he would try to find her a phone for about $90, and exchanged Facebook information so he could let her know when he had found one. 

“She added me and left. After maybe an hour, she called me from a hotel, asking if I had found a phone. Another half hour later I got a call from the Winnipeg Police,” Durar says.

The police told Durar the girl was a 12-year-old runaway. Durar says he was surprised the girl lied to him.

Durar gave the police the number she had called from to help track her down. 

Employees at Portage Place Shopping Centre say many runaways are under the influence. Intoxication is a concern security can do little about.

Mall security and staff agree they repeatedly see the same faces of people who spend hours in the mall trying to evade guards. 

Odie, who wouldn’t offer his last name, spends most of his time in the mall. The 19-year-old is at Portage Place every day dealing weed and crack-cocaine. 

“I’ve been out here for a long time. I’ve been on my own since I was 14-years-old,” Odie says, standing by the bus stop.

“[Portage Place] is way safer than the streets ... in the West End you have to walk down back lanes,” Odie says.

“My knuckles are busted, my knees, my elbows ... that’s how it goes down around here. A lot of people fight,” Odie says,
gesturing to his black eye. 

Drug dealers are a concern for police when they are searching for runaways. Runaways, who are young, broke and targets for dealers to exploit.

More information about runaway children is available from missingkids.ca

Published in Volume 69, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 17, 2014)

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