Warning: This story deals with domestic abuse and violence against women, and may upset and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.
A Vancouver non-profit that helps domestic violence survivors and their children flee their abusers “urgently” needs volunteers as the demand for its services outstrips its capacity, post-pandemic.
Shelter Movers is a free moving and storage service that meets families at their homes, helps them pack up and transition to a life without violence, elsewhere. Its executive director said that while other activities were disrupted during COVID-19, it had a health supply of drivers and movers, but that number has since dwindled as people resume their regular routines.
“When the pandemic hit, the demand for our services was significant — so many women and children living in isolation and not having the resources to leave their abuser,” Laura Derch told Global News.
“The demand still exists, there are still survivors needing our services … but so many people are out socializing again and travelling and all of those things. Particularly in the last few months, we just haven’t had the interest in volunteering for our organization that we’ve seen in the past.”
Shelter Movers currently has about 230 active volunteers. In order to meet the demand, Darch said it would need about 400.
It completed 102 moves in the Lower Mainland during the 2020 fiscal year, 272 during 2021, 288 during 2022, and 276 during the fiscal year ending in March of 2023. That number decreased due to lack of volunteers, Darch said.
Right now, the organization is averaging about 18 moves a month.
“When we had enough volunteers, we were doing about 25 to 30 moves a month, so almost a move a day,” she explained.
“I think if we called up all of the transition houses and shelters that we work with and said we could do 100 moves a month, they would say, ‘Amazing, we’ll give you a hundred survivors that need your service.'”
Shelter Movers partners with more than 50 women’s shelters, transition houses and other referral agencies in the Lower Mainland.
Last year, the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, Battered Women’s Support Services and the University of Victoria released the disturbing results of a pandemic-era survey of Indigenous women and gender diverse people in B.C.
Eighty-five per cent of 95 respondents reported an onset of intimate partner violence during the pandemic, and 77 per cent reported an increase in that violence during the pandemic.
According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, at least 88 women and girls were killed in Canada in the first half of 2022 alone, 15 of whom were in B.C.
Last December, three women were killed in the Lower Mainland within a week. A family member or intimate partner was suspected in each of the murders of Stephanie Forster, Harpreet Kaur Gill and Dominga Santos.
Neena Randhawa, director of women’s programs and initiatives at the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society in B.C., said she has observed a spike in domestic violence, based on the number of calls for help to her organization.
The society has two transition houses for women in Surrey.
“It’s like every day we have to turn down women and families, like sorry, we are full,” she told Global News, “and it’s so hard to move these families, you know, into their own housing because it’s so expensive.”
The Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society has used Shelter Movers multiple times in the past, calling it a “practical” service that lowers helps remove barriers for women trying to flee. Before Shelter Movers started in Vancouver in 2019, Randhawa said there was much more red tape in coordinating a move, particularly if women were accessing certain emergency government funds.
“They needed three different quotes from the moving companies and to find movers who would come in. It was a lot of trouble,” she explained.
“The families, they’re moving from their place, it’s such emotional timing — then to try and coordinate it would take so much of the staff time and a lot of running around.”
Shelter Movers volunteers are also trauma-informed and respectful, she added, which makes a difficult experience a little easier for the women. She said she hopes the organization is able to find the volunteers it needs.
More information on volunteering for Shelter Movers is available on its website. Shelter Movers has chapters in Calgary, Edmonton, Greater Moncton, Greater Toronto, Montreal, Nova Scotia, Ottawa, and the Waterloo region.
Women and gender diverse people experiencing violence can access support from Battered Women’s Support Services by calling the 24/7 crisis line toll-free at 1-855-687-1868.
VictimLinkBC provides toll-free multilingual support, including referral services for victims of domestic and sexual violence, at 1-800-563-080.
A map of safe shelters for women and children experiencing violence in B.C. is available online through Sheltersafe.ca.
More local resources and information can be found on the B.C. government’s website.
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