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Free moving service for women fleeing abuse now in Ottawa

‘We do a lot of planning in advance to know that we’re going in when the abuser is not there’

There are many obstacles facing women who decide to leave abusive relationships, and one of them is figuring out how to move their belongings out quickly while staying safe.

To address this problem, Marc Hull-Jaquin started a non-profit called Shelter Movers in his Toronto basement two years ago, while he was on paternity leave.

“Any morning that you find in Ottawa, Toronto or any other major city, there are literally thousands of women and children waking up to abuse. And my hope is that our free moving service can be useful as a way of removing one of those barriers,” Hull-Jacquin told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning Friday.

Shelter Movers began operating in Ottawa in October 2017.

While the service is open to anyone fleeing abuse, most of the time, the calls for help come from one of the city’s eight or nine women’s shelters.

“Because of space constraints, [victims] are usually limited to one or two garbage bags [at the shelters]. Put yourself in that situation: take everything that really matters to you, put it in those bags, leave in the middle of the night, leave while he’s at work, and you’ll never see the rest of your stuff again,” he said.

“And that’s the value I think Shelter Movers brings — that they have a chance to keep their stuff — and that’s one less thing to worry about.”

The organization gathers some information about the risks involved with each case, and then co-ordinate with police, private security, storage companies and — if there are pets involved — veterinarians.

Then, it’s time for the move. “We’re in, we’re out. Our volunteers wear regular clothes, we have plain, unmarked vehicles, we’re just friends helping somebody pick something up or get their items out,” Hull-Jacquin said.

“We do a lot of planning in advance to know that we’re going in when the abuser is not there, frankly. And if they are there, our volunteers and our security personnel are trained to talk our way in, basically, to de-escalate the situation, and always reminding our clients that they are the ones who are in charge here, that we’re the ones to follow their lead.”

The organization completed its 300th move last week, and in all that time they’ve only encountered about seven ex-partners, he added.

“I was made to do this. I’ve been in corporate work most of my career, and I left in December to do this full time. It’s not the same paycheque, but it’s enough for me to go on and I’m inspired by the people we serve, and I’m inspired by the volunteers who get involved.”

CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning, April 21, 2018, CBC News Ottawa

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