COVID Stories: An interview with Shelter Movers

By: Alanna Quinn, Engagement Coordinator

MCIS had the privilege of interviewing Shelter Movers’ Expansion Director, Amanda Levine, about how the community can get involved with the organization, and how Shelter Movers is operating during the pandemic. The organization is supporting women in their communities in every way they can: from donating storage units to survivors of domestic violence to helping individuals leave unsafe home situations. By doing this, Shelter Movers aims to give individuals strength to leave abusive homes.

Who is Shelter Movers?

Shelter Movers is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2016. They provide free storage and moving services for individuals who are leaving abusive situations in Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, and Vancouver. In 2016, Marc Hull-Jacquin,  Founder and Executive Director of Shelter Movers, was looking for a way to help his community during a paternity leave. He had heard of American cities that provided this service and decided, after finding no similar organizations in Canada, to create Shelter Movers. At the organization’s inception, Marc Hull-Jacquin decided to partner with a local women’s shelter to establish the service in Toronto. They started very small with just him, a truck, and a few volunteers. Since then, Shelter Movers has grown exponentially. They have developed standardized procedures and protocols, continually improved the services they offer, and have grown into four major cities in Canada. Partnering with community organizations and local businesses ensures that they are facilitating a life free of violence for the clients that they serve. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Shelter Movers has extended Toronto services to York Region and are looking to open up new chapters in Montreal, Quebec and Waterloo, Ontario in 2020.

How does this service makes a difference in Canadian cities?

There is no other service provider like Shelter Movers across the country. Prior to the organization, the only opportunity for women who were in shelters to keep their belongings was if they were able to afford their own storage units. Since there is not often space to have one’s belongings, there really isn’t any opportunity to keep them. And there is personal value attached to a lot of items, not to mention the extreme financial cost to replace all of one’s belongings. It can also be extremely difficult for a woman to start over when she may not have access to her own funds, and for years, she may not have had access to these funds due to a controlling partner. It is a very vulnerable time for a woman, and prior to the organization, if a woman were to go back to her house to retrieve her belongings, there would have been a huge safety risk posed. With Shelter Movers’ services, the client/survivor can to go back to her home in a safe manner. To do that, Shelter Movers is always using private security or the police, depending on the risk level associated with the move. This is to offset the extreme risk associated with going back to retrieve belongings.

How do individuals seek Shelter Movers’ services?

Shelter Movers operates on a referral basis only. What that means is that a community member on a social services level will be able to make the referral to the organization. Shelter Movers can help facilitate that connection if the client is calling directly. The idea is that if they need Shelter Movers’ services, they likely need other community support as well. Shelter Movers accepts referrals from women’s shelters, emergency departments, Children’s Aid Societies, and any social service or organization out there that can serve as a referral source.

How has the pandemic impacted Shelter Movers?

Due to COVID-19, there has been a shift in terms of the procedures and protocols. Over the last couple of months, Shelter Movers has been adapting to the changes in the world. This is a particularly high period for domestic violence, with some estimates saying more than a 20% increase, but no one can really know. It is also a very challenging time for survivors to be reaching out because of the isolation. The fact that their abuser may be home more often creates obstacles for reporting the abuse. As a result, there is a high need for Shelter Movers’ services during the pandemic.

In response to COVID-19, Shelter Movers has set a limit on the number of people present on a move, and has put new protocol safety procedures in effect such as personal protective equipment (PPE) for volunteers, and guidelines for how often they are cleaning the rental vehicles, amongst other adjustments. A lot of thought that has gone into the safety and security of both clients and volunteers, including a health-screening questionnaire before every move. Some of the questions asked are: how are you feeling and have you come in contact with anyone with COVID, etc. In addition, there has been a lot of work that has gone into sourcing protective equipment, which has been challenging during the pandemic.

Finally, a lot of expansion work is being done during the pandemic to open new Shelter Movers’ chapters in Montreal and Waterloo. This is a particularly busy time as both cities have begun to recruit new volunteers, they are starting their fundraising efforts, and are doing everything required in order to make these new chapters happen.

How do organizations and individuals get involved with Shelter Movers?

There are so many ways to get involved with Shelter Movers, both during the pandemic and more generally, too. Moves, on average, cost the organization around $200. That money is largely going towards renting vehicles and the insurance fee for renting, storage units, and security costs. Some other services that are occasionally required include: interpretation services and pet fostering services. Shelter Movers is fortunate that many of the cities have been able to get these move essentials discounted or donated in-kind. Finding discounted and free services is probably the biggest need in the upcoming cities of Montreal and Waterloo, as well as just in general. Free and discounted services really help get the costs down. The lower the costs, the more clients they are able to serve. Business partners in the community are a huge help, as well organizations willing to provide some of these support services at a discounted or low cost are integral in Shelter Movers being able to function and move forward. Private donors from the community have been really necessary for Shelter Movers to be able to hire office staff. Financially, there is a need there, and there continues to be a need, especially now that the costs are a little bit higher because of the need to buy PPE.

Also, there is people power, which is always needed. The moves themselves have move teams that are happening all the time, in every city. Shelter Movers definitely needs people to be on those moves, as well as to coordinate those moves, to be the intake team behind the moves, and to be doing marketing and communications. Spreading the message is fundamental so that people across the country know that Shelter Movers exists and can recommend the services to those in need.

There are many ways to get involved and the best way to get information about volunteer opportunities is to go to the Shelter Movers’ website at www.sheltermovers.com. There is a section where people can donate, as well as an information section about volunteer opportunities that are available. Shelter Movers recruits at all times for any skill set.

If you would like to get involved with this inspiring organization, check out their website full of volunteering opportunities and upcoming events.

Upcoming Events:

Check out Shelter Movers’ upcoming events at www.sheltermovers.com under their Events section.


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