For many women, finding the courage—and resources—to leave an abusive relationship is a daunting task. But one volunteer-driven organization is hoping it can make the move easier for victims of domestic violence in Vancouver.
Founded in Toronto in 2016, Shelter Movers offers free moving and storage services for women and children fleeing households with domestic violence. The group partners with local women’s shelters and storage facilities, helping to relocate clients while ensuring they don’t have to leave behind clothing, furnishings, and important documents and mementos.
In two years, the nonprofit has completed over 300 moves in Toronto and Ottawa, and will be launching a Vancouver arm in September. “Women are on their own to make the decision to leave [an abusive relationship], to figure out the logistics and economics of getting out,” Brian Vidler, director of Shelter Movers Vancouver, tells the Straight by phone. “So that’s where we’re trying to fill that specific gap.”
A Vancouver-based engineer, Vidler decided to get involved with Shelter Movers after reading about the organization online last year, and seeing no comparable resources in the region. He says that, according to B.C. Housing, more than three women and two children move into a shelter or transition house every day in Vancouver, exemplifying a need for such a service.
Shelter Movers is partnering with shelters and transitional-housing facilities like the YWCA, the Atira Women’s Resource Society, and the Bloom Group, where it will support the women living in and moving into these sites.
The nonprofit will launch in Vancouver by offering what it calls “resettlement moves”, in which women have left an abusive household, are living in shelters, and need help moving into a new home. “Escorted moves”, in which women are taken back into the homes they’ve fled to collect their belongings and then moved into a shelter system, and “urgent exits”, in which women request to be removed from a property with their possessions as soon as possible, will come later.
Shelter Movers’ staff receive background checks and trauma training. The team also works closely with clients to assess the risk of the abuser, and to determine the best times to safely enter households without coming in contact with the abuser.
Security personnel and police may be called upon in higher risk situations. In addition, the organization makes an effort to be as inconspicuous as possible. “We don’t have any flashy vehicles; we don’t wear uniforms,” notes Vidler. “It’s almost like friends helping friends move.”
Shelter Movers hopes to begin its operations in Vancouver as early as September. The service will, ideally, be available 24/7, depending on volunteers’ availability. However, Vidler predicts that most moves will take place on evenings and weekends.
“There’s been a lot of great work done to help these women,” he says. “This is just a small piece of this overall process they’re going through.”