• By: Chloë Hayes

Shelter Movers celebrates expansion into Lanark County

Rural women are disproportionately affected by family- and gender-based violence. According to Stats Canada, the rate of family violence is two times higher in rural versus urban areas. Several factors, including lack of access to services, increase the risk of intimate partner violence by 75 percent for rural women

Shelter Movers, a national, volunteer-powered charity that provides free moving and storage to people experiencing abuse, has just expanded their services to Lanark County.

According to chapter director Wendy Mitchell, it has been a long-term goal to have Shelter Movers’ services available to the rural areas surrounding Ottawa.

The recent inquest into the murders of three women in Renfrew County highlights the surge in need for survivor support services specifically tailored to rural communities. Shelter Movers has addressed this call to action by announcing the Lanark County Interval House as their first regional referral agency.

The Lanark County Interval House has provided emergency safety to women and children fleeing violence since 1979. It is the largest and most well-known shelter in the area, with two levels of second-stage housing. Together, their goal is to further improve and emphasize the resources and support services available to those courageously deciding to start a new life free from violence.

“It is amazing to have Lanark County Interval House working directly with us. We are looking forward to developing the relationship further,” expressed Wendy Mitchell, Shelter Movers’ Ottawa chapter director.

ABOVE: Volunteers with Shelter Movers help adults and their children escape abusive and violent situations.

Shelter Movers is the only service of its kind in Canada and relies on volunteers. The social isolation and economic hardship brought on by the pandemic have increased instances of abuse and violence against women in Canada, with women in rural communities most at risk.

Mitchell explains that a close-knit dynamic found in smaller communities can make survivors feel trapped: “If an abusive partner has a positive reputation in the community, it is much harder to leave; there is a difficult stigma.” This, along with a lack of services and limited geographical distance offer less ability for safe transportation.

Volunteers with Shelter Movers lend a hand in many different ways. “It can be as robust as you want it to be. We accept volunteers on the moving scene in marketing, communications, fund development, and volunteer processing. Many volunteers with us come to gain skills, build relationships with other agencies, or practice dealing with tough situations,” says Mitchell.

Some volunteers will virtually coordinate the move and itinerary, while another team will manage the intake of clients who contact Shelter Movers by referral. Others coordinate services, including on-site language interpreters, security personnel, and pet fostering. Everyone works together to ensure that survivors are supported.

Mathieu Berlinquette, Lead Mover for Shelter Movers Ottawa, describes his experiences volunteering for Shelter Movers Ottawa: “When we end up at the client’s new home, their children come out of the car, and they come running, cheering, and super excited about what’s to come: that’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

After recently hitting their thousandth move after only five years in Ottawa, Mitchell states, “We are trying to be very thoughtful and intentional about our expansion, and we hope to work toward expanding into more nearby counties.”

It is critical to have volunteers in these specific communities to make the expansion a success. The pandemic was challenging for volunteer-based organizations who lost their lifeline of helpers. The threat of another round of COVID and the flu season is once again making it challenging to find available volunteers.

ABOVE: Wendy Mitchell (left) and staff of Shelter Movers award Smith & Barrel at The Grand Hotel the 2022 SoupShare Community’s Choice Award.

“We have a great team in the county, but we are always looking for more help,” said Mitchell. Shelter Movers recently held a lunchtime Soup Share event at the Carleton Place Canoe Club. Visitors enjoyed a complimentary soup lunch provided by local restaurants, voted for the best bowl in Lanark County, and learned about the impact of gender-based violence support in the community.

On November 30th, Shelter Movers is holding a virtual information night addressing common questions about the expansion and their wide range of volunteer opportunities. Events like these are an excellent opportunity for those interested to learn the numerous ways they can create lasting, positive change in their communities.

The event will take place Wednesday, November 30th, from 7 pm-8:30 pm EST and is free of charge; tickets available at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/information-night-shelter-movers-rural-expansion-tickets-425328156967

For more information on volunteer roles and to apply as part of the team, visit the Shelter Movers website at www.sheltermovers.com/volunteer