‘Very needed’: Shelter Movers Ottawa looking for support from Smiths Falls

Photo via Unsplash

When fleeing from a domestic violence situation, and you need help moving your belongings, Shelter Movers Ottawa has got your back.

Ray Eskritt, shelter director, spoke to Smiths Falls council on June 10 to outline what the organization does for its clients, and to gain support from the town as they have been helping Smiths Falls residents lately.

Shelter Movers, a national, volunteer-powered charity provides no-cost moving and storage services to survivors fleeing abuse. They are trauma-informed and survivor-centred, operating from an anti-racist and anti-oppressive lens.

Eskritt said they help people fleeing a variety of abusive situations – gender-based violence, family violence or intimate partner violence.

“It can encompass a lot of things – human trafficking, elder abuse, child abuse, whatever the issue, and whatever your gender is,” Eskritt said. “If you need to escape your living situation, we will come, pack up your belongings for free, for however long it takes to find your housing, and then go back, pack it back up, put it in your new house, arrange your furniture, rebuild it the way you need,” Eskritt explained.

Over the past two years, Shelter Moves has been moving into more rural areas, Eskritt said, like Leeds Grenville. They’re trying to close the gap between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

“We know this is a real problem in Canada. We know that a woman is murdered in Canada every two and a half days,” Eskritt said. “Usually by someone she loves.”

According to the presentation, IPV is 75 per cent higher in rural communities than urban because those being abused can’t escape as easily.

Eskritt explained that there are some barriers to new beginnings, including emotional, financial, residential and safety issues.

Shelter Movers performs 22 moves per month; about one per week in rural areas, including in Smiths Falls, Eskritt said. They have completed 1,300 moves since 2018.

“We are working with partners in your town,” Eskritt said. “We coordinate with security personnel. We love (Acting Smiths Falls Police Chief) Jodi (Empey), she’s fantastic.”

Eskritt said police in town have been overwhelmingly supportive and “officers have been showing up for us in a big way. And we would like to thank you for making sure that continues to happen.”

They also work with the Ontario Provincial Police, language interpreters, pet fostering agencies, “whatever we have to do to make sure people can get out and have their needs met.”

Shelter Movers does three types of moves – urgent exit, escorted and resettlement.

There is a process to using this service. One must be referred by a community group — “like from a social worker, police officers, teachers – anyone in the community, they will take a referral from.”

The client will work with an intake coordinator over the phone if it’s safe to do so. The move will be planned and finalized before the itinerary is created. Then the move will happen, using police for security if needed.

Most clients are women with children under the age of eight.

The agency is powered by 177 volunteers from a variety of backgrounds and skills. Male allies are encouraged to give their time and talent to support the work as well.

“We are recruiting constantly,” Eskritt said.

Volunteers undergo reference checks, screened interviews, trauma-informed orientation, specialized training, ongoing education and workshops, and free mental health counselling.

Shelter Movers is always looking for donations of gas cards, help to pay insurance costs, staff support, volunteer training, PPE, moving supplies, vehicle rentals and storage space.

“We are a very basic service but we think we are very needed,” Eskritt said. “The rate of intimate partner violence is an epidemic.”

Coun. Jennifer Miller confirmed that Smiths Falls did declare IPV an epidemic. “We were one of the first communities in Lanark County to do that and it was a small thing do to but I think it made a big statement, and we’re really proud to do our part.”

Miller asked how the organization is funded.

Eskritt said they receive $70,000 annually from the City of Ottawa and another $40,000 annually for the rural expansion program, “from one particular donor who has an interest in rural and outlying communities.”

Fundraising and “begging” make up the remainder of the funds needed.

Miller suggested applying for a community grant that may fit this organization’s need for funding as they support Smiths Falls residents. Eskritt will find out how many people in Smiths Falls they have helped.

Mayor Shawn Pankow said this is a vital organization that is needed by women and children who can’t get out of a domestic situation because of that barrier.

“You’ve done such an incredible job with those barriers, and I appreciate how shameless you are with your begging,” Pankow said. “It shows your undying commitment.”

The mayor said he knows domestic violence cases are up “significantly here since the pandemic. I think over 40 per cent. I’m really pleased to hear our police chief is actively involved.”

Pankow, who sits on the police services board, said he’d take this information back to the board to see if they can approve more funding in their budget to help with safe moves in Smiths Falls.


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