Surfer-Pack Project aims to address youth homelessness

Image of Shawna O'Neill
By Shawna O'Neill
Surfer-Pack Project aims to address youth homelessness
From left, Dominique Lafleche and Melanie Dawson with collections for the Surfer Packs. Submitted photo.

CORNWALL & SDG, Ontario – Some youth in our region are experiencing homelessness, living from couch to couch. With no homeless shelters in our area, they may often feel isolated and seek refuge wherever possible.

Melanie Dawson, former youth leader and Sunday school teacher, has started an initiative coined the Surfer-Pack Project and is aiming to address the hidden homelessness of individuals aged 16 to 29 across Cornwall, SDG and Akwesasne.

“This started for us because we were aware of a specific scenario,” said Dawson, who knew of a young individual that was kicked out of his home due to his sexual orientation. “We met with the Social Development Council (SDC) and discussed a research study about hidden homelessness in Cornwall.”

From the SDC study, it was approximated that about 83 young adults experience homelessness in our region on a yearly basis, although concrete statistics are difficult to attain. It was also determined that services to these individuals who are not located specifically in Cornwall are hard to maintain.

Dawson started hosting a non-denominational group that play board games and video games, bake and just hang out together on Friday evenings called the YaYas (Youth and Young Adults) out of a church in Williamstown before her pack project came to fruition. Having seen the need for the initiative, Dawson recently facilitated space through the St. Andrews United Church where surfer packs are being created. Community partners who recognize the importance of the cause have also jumped on board in assisting to create kits, such as the Young Workers Committee, affiliated with the CEIU Local 621, who recently held an item drive for the kits. According to Dawson, seven distribution points have been established across the region, but she is still looking to grow a rural presence in SDG and Akwesasne.

“We had to start somewhere. It’s very grassroots and very organic,” said Dawson.

The surfer packs include items like tooth brushes, tooth paste, shampoos, coffee, travel utensils, portable chargers, resource lists of community agencies for food and support, as well at tips on how to budget.

“Right now we are looking for sponsors and specific items,” explained Dawson, who feels it would be nice to create 100 packs with new items ready to be utilized.

Dawson is hoping to help empower young people who may be struggling or in a transition period to move forward, giving them a base of necessity items. To get involved or learn more, Dawson can be contacted at or 613-407-1004. To learn more about the YaYas social nights, visit the Facebook page here.

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