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Charity helping families transition to violence-free lives

Community ProfileCharity helping families transition to violence-free lives

Since 2016, Shelter Movers has helped many people get their lives on track by providing moving and storage services to individuals and families fleeing abuse and violence.

Shelter Movers has completed over 6,000 movers for people across Canada with a dedicated network of over 2,000 volunteers. Courtney Waterfall, who is the Southeastern Chapter Director, and helps serve the areas of Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, and Brantford, explained the importance of their work. 

“One of the barriers to leaving an abusive situation is having to leave your possessions behind, and having a fear that your things will be damaged or thrown out [and the] fear for the safety of pets as well. And that is often one of the reasons people stay with their abuser. With our services…we go back with them to the abusive home with police or security so that they can get the belongings that they had to leave behind,” Waterfall explained. “If they’re still in the abusive home, we will go again with police or security [and] help them get everything that they want to be able to take with them. Then we’ll store it as long as they need. If they’re going into a shelter, or into transitional housing, or even staying with family or friends temporarily basis until they get their feet back on the ground, we will store their stuff at no cost for as long as needed…and then we’ll help them move it once they’re ready to move into their new permanent home. It takes a lot of stress off the situation.”

Waterfall, who joined Shelters Movers in 2021, noted just how important many of these possessions can be for a person, especially in situations where they are starting from scratch.

“Many people don’t realize some of those cherished items are what can hold people back [and] there’s obviously the financial aspect too. Starting over is very expensive [and] if you can take your furniture and your clothes and all of those things, that helps. But baby books, family heirlooms, and other personal documentation, those things are either really expensive to replace or irreplaceable,” stated Waterfall.

Shelter Movers continues to rely on its dedicated volunteers who have helped many people escape violence by managing areas of moving and storage. Photo courtesy Shelter Movers Southwestern Ontario.

The chapter that Waterfall leads includes Brantford and Brant County and has helped coordinate 100s of moves in the region.

“[This chapter] started in December of 2020 [and] we have done over 500 moves [and] we will probably hit our 600th move at some point during the summer. We were doing seven to ten moves a month about a year and a half ago [and now] we’re now doing more than 20; last month, we did 26 moves. We are growing at an incredible pace,” Waterfall said. “We aren’t reaching the full community yet, so we need to grow our volunteer base [as well as] our donor base [and] our community partners so that we’re able to support everyone in the community that needs our help.”

Even with the good work happening as a result of Shelter Movers, Waterfall still gets affected by those she helps.

“I was on a move the other day [and] on the way home I was in tears after helping someone. We have seen an increase in the number of seniors that we are moving recently. Elder abuse is significant in our community…it doesn’t have to be physical; it can be financial, emotional, spiritual [or] verbal…we have seen a lot of seniors lately, which hits a little bit differently,” said Waterfall.

Shelter Movers (Southwestern Ontario Chapter) recently marked an important milestone. It was their 500th move in the fight against gender-based violence. Photo courtesy Shelter Movers Southwestern Ontario.

However, there are also many positive stories that Waterfall has witnessed.

“One client that we served a couple of years ago decided to go back to school for social work, because they want to be able to give back, which is just so incredible. We’ve also seen a woman who has been able to get custody of their children back once they were on their own. And that’s always such an incredible feeling knowing that she is with their kids again. But every single person we’re serving [we find that] their life has changed for the better,” Waterfall noted.

When it comes to the continued growth of the organization, Waterfall referred to its volunteers and how instrumental they have been in helping many affected families.

“We have an amazing team of volunteers that help us do the work that we do. We have about 150 volunteers just in Southwestern Ontario alone who are helping us be able to provide this service to the people that need it. All of our clients come to us through a referral [and] that can be through a shelter, a caseworker, a social worker, or a therapist…anyone that’s in a helping profession. When the referral comes to us, we have a team of remote administrative volunteers that do all of our volunteer recruitment and retention. They do our fundraising, they do our marketing communications, but then they do the operation side,” Waterfall explained. “They will do the intake process…and then it will go over to our move coordination team [who] work directly with the client….then on the day of the move, we make sure everything is running according to plan including with police or security.”

Shelter Movers participate in various events throughout the year. This past March, they were part of Perfect Pitch and spoke about its mission to support families transitioning from violence to safety in Southwestern Ontario. Photo courtesy Shelter Movers Southwestern Ontario.

Nevertheless, Waterfall and the Southwestern team are looking for more volunteers, especially in the County of Brant.

“We are looking for volunteers in the Brant County area as most of our volunteers are in the Waterloo region. We started as Shelter Movers Waterloo region, but in July 2023, we changed our name to Shelter Movers Southwestern Ontario. And with that change, we have seen a huge increase in the need for our services in Brant County in particular. We are looking for volunteers to assist with the moves.  We have been welcomed with open arms by some of the community agencies in Brant County. But now we need to kind of develop a team there to be able to work within the community and it helps shorten the day a little bit because our team doesn’t have to travel quite as much,” said Waterfall.

Waterfall continues to praise the organization’s volunteers and its client’s resiliency and commitment to starting a new life.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned since I started with Shelter Movers is the amazing community we have, [who] will come together to make these moves happen. Our volunteers are the most incredible group of people. And the clients we’re serving have so much strength; the way that they’re able to overcome the circumstances that they’ve been through,” Waterfall said. “working with Shelter Movers is quite challenging sometimes because of the stories that we hear. But it’s so rewarding [because] in the matter of five hours we’re completely changing somebody’s life…We’ve had volunteers that are on the move, [they] see the bruises on our clients [or] holes in the walls…after you’ve done the move…you have 100% changed that person’s life.”

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