A shelter movers volunteer helping move a clients possessions.
A Shelter Movers volunteer helping move a clients possessions. Credit: Shelter Movers Credit: Shelter Movers

In a way, Shelter Movers is like any other moving service. When a person decides to leave their old home, Shelter Movers helps them pack up their things, load them into trucks, and drop them off at their new location. The difference is, the service is volunteer powered, and totally free – and its clients are people leaving a situation of gender-based violence. 

Since 2016, the organization has completed over 6,000 moves. It currently operates in nine cities across six provinces. 

The clients are often – but not exclusively – women leaving an abusive household. They sometimes bring their children with them. They might be leaving physical violence, financial, emotional, or psychological abuse. 

Moving operations can sometimes be risky for the client and the volunteers involved. But the service also helps clients move out of shelter spaces and other temporary residences to new, safe homes. 

Moving operations

Currently, all of Shelter Movers’ clients are referred through social services, often shelters. Rebekah Hansen, Edmonton’s chapter director, explains that this system helps services like shelter and police to coordinate with each other to meet all the clients’ other needs, taking the onus off the client to figure it out themselves. 

“They’re not having to retell their story over and over and over again, which can be traumatizing,” Hansen explained. 

Once Shelter Movers receives a tip, a volunteer coordinator then assesses what services the client needs, and how risky the move will be – the abuser might be nearby, there may be weapons in the home, or the situation may involve gang activity, for example. 

The coordinator then recruits volunteer movers to show up to the location on moving day.

They may also contact partner businesses, like moving companies, storage services, and security services, as needed. 

Shelter Movers also partners with animal fostering services – shelters often do not accept pets, Hansen noted, so clients with pets need to find another place for them to stay temporarily. 

Gender-based violence on the rise

Shelter Movers is expanding its operations in response to provincial statistics that indicate rising rates of gender-based violence across Canada, said Elsa Perry, Calgary’s chapter director. 

In a letter issued August 14, Federal Justice Minister Arif Virani recently called gender violence an “epidemic” in Canada. The letter came in response to a provincial inquest on three women who were murdered in Renfrew County, ON, in 2015. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the issue more extreme – gender-based violence happens most frequently inside the home, and lockdowns meant isolating people in homes with their abusers.

An important support

Hansen noted that individuals and families leaving an abusive home often have no way of accessing help in relocating to a shelter.

Abusive situations often revolve around social isolation – clients may not have any family or acquaintances willing to help them because of the social consequences of abusive relationships. 

Clients may also not be able to pay for private moving or storage services, Hansen noted, even if their household is otherwise financially comfortable. Abusers may have sole control over bank accounts. Or, they might simply catch wind of the abuse victim’s plans to leave if they see a payment go through for a U-haul. 

Limited space in shelters, Hansen noted, often have one or two-bag limits to conserve space. But, just like anyone else, people leaving abuse often have far more than two bags worth of stuff that is invaluable to them. 

For these reasons, a service like Shelter Movers is so crucial. 

“I can really testify to how much I would have appreciated having these kinds of services when I was in that situation,” Hansen said. 

The organization is currently looking for more volunteers so that Shelter Movers can expand its operations, Perry emphasized. “All we ask is that you’re willing to do a bit of training with us.” There are no specific availability or experience requirements for volunteers. 

People looking to help can also contribute financial donations to help fund the Shelter Movers’ operations.

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Georgia Kelly

Georgia Kelly (she/her) is rabble.ca’s assistant editor. She is an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, where she is studying History, Creative Writing, and Law. She is also the Business and Labour...