An organization that helps survivors of domestic violence move their belongings to a new home is in desperate need of volunteers to help fulfill the rising number of requests they’re receiving.
Currently, Shelter Movers has roughly half the number of people needed to meet demand.
“I think it’s a national trend that every non-profit is really short of volunteers,” said Shelter Movers volunteer Sherry Hu.
Shelter Movers, a national organization, has several chapters across Canada, with their Vancouver one serving that city as well as other parts of the Lower Mainland. Surrey is the organization’s second-highest service area, according to Shelter Movers’ data.
The organization receives requests from shelters and transition houses when a client – a domestic abuse survivor – needs to go home to retrieve their belongings.
“From there, we find a date on the calendar where we have volunteers, this is our issue right now. Those dates are becoming fewer and fewer,” explained Laura Darch, Vancouver chapter director.
“For a lot of women in this situation, it’s not safe for them to go back and shelters only allow for them to have a couple bags so they can’t take their belongings. So sometimes they have to start a new life with nothing.”
Before the appointment, a group of volunteers will asses the situation by asking the client how risky it is for her to go back to the home, with each appointment then categorized as either low-, medium- or high-risk.
“We try to make the appointment when the abuser is not present,” Darch added, since it can be very difficult for the survivor to face the person who abused them.
“We’ll rent the truck, we’ll get all the volunteer movers, the drivers. If the stuff isn’t packed, we’ll go in and pack it all for her and move it into the new location, but if she doesn’t have permanent housing, we’ll move everything into … one of our storage lockers that we have.”
Some of the clients, the majority of whom are women, are also parents, so moving the children’s items and making sure they’re comfortable is also necessary. Darch shared that a lot of the time, the survivors won’t have their own transportation, so they will ride in the truck with the volunteers.
“In Surrey especially, there’s a lot of families involving children who need the help as well to move to a new place so they can restart,” said Hu, a volunteer from Surrey who works in the fund development department.
A survivor recently shared a message with Darch, thanking the volunteers for their service.
“As I drove behind the movers, I was so amazed as to the compassion, empathy and kindness they showed through and through that I broke down in tears of relief, joy and a whole lot of hope! All it took was a simple gesture of a few good people who understood without judgment. Huge hugs to those kind souls who took the time out of their day to help a scared woman, uncertain of the future. Thank you!”
Darch noted that most volunteers will take on administrative roles, but what is especially needed right now are individuals who can help with the physical move — drivers and movers who pack the items. She added that not many volunteers from Surrey and White Rock are movers or drivers.
“More recently, we’re finding more requests for storage, because they haven’t found permanent housing. We’re definitely seeing that on the rise recently.”
On average, the group used to do about 30 moves a month and while the demand is still there and growing, the group says, the number of moves has been cut nearly in half, with the group only being able to complete 16 in May.
“Summer is our busiest time and we’re starting to turn down requests for moves. It’s devastating to think about the consequences for women and their children,” Darch said.
“You don’t really think about that whole process of how a survivor is going to leave, but of course she can’t just go back and grab all of her things with an abuser in the house. It can be really unsafe.”
During the pandemic when there were restrictions on social gatherings and travel, the organization had enough volunteers and could fulfill most requests. But now, “everyone’s being social again and travelling,” Darch said, so their volunteer pool has dropped.
While the Vancouver and Lower Mainland chapter has about 230 volunteers, Darch saidat least 400 are needed to meet demand.
“We know that there are demands into the Fraser Valley but we need volunteers there first,” said Hu, adding that the group is looking for funds to expand the service to more areas of the province.
The chapter director emphasized that trauma-informed training is crucial for all volunteers and is provided by staff. Bus passes are provided to volunteers who use public transit.
“The need is still there, the demand is still there but we don’t have as many volunteers,” Darch said.