Shelter Movers, a group that helps people, mainly women, who are leaving an abusive situation move and store their stuff, is relatively new to the region, having only established a chapter here in 2020. Still, volunteers and staff recently marked their 200th move.
“We are filling a gap. The agencies that we’re working with are very grateful for our services. Some were able to do a little bit of helping their clients move before, but not to the extent that that we are. And a lot of women were leaving abusive situations with nothing. They had to start over,” explained Courtney Waterfall, chapter director for Waterloo Region.
Waterfall says the rates of femicide drastically increase once a woman decides to leave.
In 2019, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported that Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge was the least safe place to live as a woman in the country. This was due to the rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence reported to police were among the highest, and the rate of criminal harassment targeting woman was the highest in the country.
In 2020, Shelter Movers opened up its chapter here. Since then, the organization has moved 200 clients, with usually about 13 moves per month. Last May was the organization’s highest month yet, says Waterfall, with 18 families relocated.
Some of this increase could be due to an increase in awareness about the organization’s services, but Waterfall notes most of their clients are still coming from the same agencies as when they got started.
Gender-based violence and intimate-partner violence are issues that are often under the radar, she noted.
This kind of violence is, “a very personal thing,” said Waterfall. “People feel like they need to hide it. It’s a conversation that’s kept quiet within their family. And what people don’t realize is that it impacts everyone. Whether you realize it or not, whether it’s you directly or a friend or a family member or a neighbor. Everyone knows someone who has been impacted by gender based violence. So we need to get rid of the stigma.”
All of Shelter Movers clients are referred. Volunteers and staff take the client through an intake process, and organize the move. Volunteers come to help with driving, packing and moving items. Police or security are present if needed.
Much of the material and use of the trucks are donated. Waterfall pointed out Penske Truck Rental and Jamieson Truck Rental, two local companies that regularly donate trucks.
Waterfall says her chapter has about 170 frontline workers who help on actual moves as movers and drivers and also volunteer as administrators, and they’re looking for more.
There are six chapters across Canada.
“On average, a woman will return to an abusive relationship about six or seven times before they leave for good. And so we’re hoping that because they don’t have to completely start over with using our services, they’re able to get their belongings, those cherished mementos, the things that really mean the most to them, they are able to start their life on a more positive note.”
Spencer Arbuckle is a volunteer lead mover and the LGBTQIA2S+ outreach worker for the organization. He started out just helping out on moves, but became more involved.
“I was looking for an activity to partake in during COVID. So just over a year ago, I thought about checking out the available volunteer opportunities in the region. Just through the region’s volunteer hub or website, I came across Shelter Movers,” he said.
“It worked out well because I’m interested in fitness and physical exercise and I thought that, combined with being a really good cause, and actually the demand for Shelter Movers’ services actually was increased during COVID too, so that was a further sort of push to volunteer,” he said.
The organization is hosting an information night at the Ayr Library tonight from 6-7:30 p.m.
“I would definitely encourage getting involved in any capacity just because there’s such a need for it in the region. And it’s really a side of the community that I live in that I hadn’t really seen in that way before. And it really opened up my eyes.”