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Shelter Movers offers a helping hand for those fleeing abuse

Shelter Movers Southwestern Ontario provides moving and storage services at no cost to individuals and families fleeing abuse
Shelter Movers Southwestern Ontario is dedicated to helping families transition to a life free from violence.

It takes courage to leave an abusive relationship.

Shelter Movers Southwestern Ontario is dedicated to helping families transition to a life free from violence.

With nine chapters across the county, the national, volunteer based charitable organization provides moving and storage services at no cost to individuals and families fleeing abuse.

“Our mission statement says that if you find the courage to leave, we’ll find the hands to help,” said Courtney Waterfall, chapter director at Shelter Movers Southwestern Ontario.

“About 99 per cent of our clients are women. We do know that women will often return to their abuser six or seven times before they leave for good. We hope that with our support, they get that fresh start and never return. We try to eliminate as many barriers as possible.”

Collaborating with local businesses and community agencies, Shelter Movers Southwestern Ontario has supported women and children since Dec. 2020, as they transition from an abusive household.

“Shelter Movers works with local businesses and community services such as shelters, police, schools, and organizations that refer clients who have decided to leave an abuser and have a safer place to go,” Waterfall said.

“We make all the arrangements to move and store survivors’ belongings securely, on the clients’ terms."

Shelter Movers helps to empower survivors of abuse as they make the transition.

“People don’t tend to stay in the same area when they leave an abusive situation,” Waterfall said.  

“They either move closer to family and friends or they want a fresh start. We have a lot of movement in and out of the region and across southwestern Ontario. We have done over 367 moves in southwestern Ontario since we first began.”

Although Shelter Movers does not provide housing, it does offer moving and storage services at no cost.

“We will help people move as many times as they need. If it’s a shelter at first, then transitional housing or staying with family and friends, and then eventually moving into a permanent home, we will help every step of the way,” Waterfall said.

Shelter Movers assists in helping to remove the financial barriers of moving as well as the emotional barriers of leaving.

“All of those important belongings that clients have, there are emotional ties to those things too. We will also arrange for pets to be cared for while their owners are in a shelter," Waterfall said.

The number one priority for Shelter Movers Southwestern Ontario is to keep clients and volunteers safe.  

The organization conducts three types of moves: low, medium, and high-risk. To ensure everyone’s safety, it receives help from either security or police services during medium and high-risk moves.

"When we go into a home to collect a client’s belongings, we will bring police or security if there is a chance that the abuser will be present. We know that when a woman returns to get her belongings and the abuser is there, violence can escalate, often times," Waterfall said.

“Rates of femicide are increasing drastically. We hope to remove all of those barriers for our clients so that they are able to get that fresh start in a new and safe home."

But, Waterfall says, as rates of violence continue to increase, so too does the need for services.

“When we think back to last year, we were doing about seven moves a month. We are currently doing 16 to 20 moves a month,” she said.

All volunteers are trained in trauma informed care.

"We use a client centred approach. Our team is trained to work with clients in the best possible way, to help empower them. The client is in control on the day of the move. They are the ones that are in charge and our team is there to support them,” Waterfall said.

“Right now, we have 170 volunteers, but this is always changing We are always looking for volunteers specifically for our frontline positions such as our movers and drivers."

Shelter Movers also accepts cash and in-kind donations to support security, storage and moving costs.

On the day of a move, the team operates according to a clients’ needs and priorities, helping survivors leave abuse and retain their belongings with dignity.

“For me, it’s such important work. I get to represent our wonderful team of volunteers who are out there almost everyday, making the moves happen. And we know that we are only reaching a fraction of the population,” Waterfall said.

“There are so many people that need our services. I would love to work myself out of a job but realistically that’s not going to happen. It’s proven that our services are desperately needed.”