Local survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence have a strong new ally in their corner who will move their belongings and them to safety at no charge.
Shelter Movers, a volunteer-driven national charitable organization that provides free moving and storage services to women and children experiencing abuse, announced this week it is expanding to serve clients in York Region.
The group will partner with Newmarket’s York Region Centre for Community Safety, Abuse Hurts, and local shelters Yellow Brick House and Sandgate Women’s Shelter of York Region.
Since its Toronto launch in April 2016, the service has grown to include chapters in Ottawa, Vancouver, and Halifax.
So far, the organization has completed about 1,100 moves for about 60 families on average each month between the four cities in which it operates. Shelter Movers Greater Toronto anticipates to coordinate between four and six moves each week in York Region.
It has a current roster of about 700 local volunteers and has issued a call for anyone in York Region to help by volunteering in a number of roles, including coordinators, movers, and female leaders to work with clients on moving day.
Shelter Movers founder and executive director Marc Hull-Jacquin said the moving and storage service fills a critical gap by supporting people fleeing abuse.
“Often, the person leaving the situation feels shame, fear, and embarrassment, and their own family doesn’t know about their plan to leave,” Hull-Jacquin said.
York Region Centre for Community Safety program coordinator Lauren Massey, who will lead the coordination for local moves, said the free moving and storage service eliminates a barrier that women face when trying to leave an abusive situation.
“One of the biggest things our clients are looking for is that ability to be able to move, and moving companies cost an astronomical amount to move someone and a lot of them don’t have the funds for that,” she added.
Massey is no stranger to helping someone leave an abusive relationship. On Shelter Movers very first move, it was founder Hull-Jacquin with a rental truck and a handful of volunteers, which included Massey, who answered a call to help.
“Lauren reached out and said, ‘This sounds great I need to get involved’. We helped a woman collect her belongings, she’d been staying in the basement of a friend’s house, we helped her move her boxes up, put them in the truck, and off we went,” Hull-Jacquin said.
“I was very fortunate to stumble upon Shelter Movers when they first started and what a rewarding experience it was,” Massey said. “To see all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to get someone moved, and to be able to see that woman so happy when we moved her into her new place meant everything to me.”
Shelter Movers works with many local businesses and community partners to help families transition to a life free of violence, said Hull-Jacquin.
Locally, the organization works with Bristol for truck rentals, A.S.P. Security Services provides private security guards, and Abacus Self Storage and Doane Road Storage provide free storage units for as long as the client needs it.
“Local business owners in York Region see the opportunity for ways they can give back and show compassion by proxy working through Shelter Movers,” Hull-Jacquin said.
National funding partners include the Zukerman Family Foundation, P. & L. Odette Charitable Foundation, and the Department of Women and Gender Equality Canada.
“Our work with women’s shelters is very important as we move clients in and out of those locations into their new home,” said Hull-Jacquin. “We have a positive and productive relationship with York Regional Police. They are operating in a positive, survivor-centred way, and they understand the very difficult journey that survivors have to go through to get to a safe place with Shelter Movers help.”
“At Shelter Movers, we often say violence against women is not a women’s issue, violence against women is, in many ways, a men’s issue, this is about men hurting women,” he said. “We support men, too, and move them, but we try to call this out for what it is.”
Recent statistics show there were 5,300 cases of reported intimate partner violence in York Region, which has been increasing year-over-year. In 2019, there were more than 93,000 reported cases in Canada.
Shelter Movers services are important, as are the services provided by the York Region Centre for Community Safety and its partners, which offers a single access point for survivors to access the supports and services they need at one central location in Newmarket, said the centre’s executive director Jaspreet Gill.
“This is important for the clients we serve, for them to be able to have safety and wellbeing in moving to the new spaces they need to move to. But there’s no reduction in gender-based violence and violence against women,” she said. “We can’t do this alone, it requires everyone working together because systemic barriers remain.”
Here’s how Shelter Movers works for clients and their pets, too. A referral is needed from a local agency:
- Urgent exit: Secure, quick-response transportation to get you to a safe place.
- Escorted move: Volunteers escort the client to households with security accompaniment to retrieve your belongings and furniture.
- Resettlement move: Volunteers transport the client and belongings to the client’s new home.