Lisa Rupert, Vice President of Housing and Violence Prevention for the YWCA Metro Vancouver, remembers when she first heard about Shelter Movers. “It was back in 2018 that I got an email from the BC Society of Transition Houses, asking if I would meet with Brian Vidler (Shelter Movers Vancouver’s first chapter director). I was curious,” she says, “and wanted to know more.” She welcomed the idea of a free moving service for women experiencing violence and ended up working with Vidler to set up the initial partnership.
Three and a half years later, the partnership between YWCA Metro Vancouver, a pioneer in transitional housing for women, and Shelter Movers Vancouver, is thriving and provides, on average, one to three moves per month for YWCA clients.
Before Shelter Movers Vancouver was established, YWCA clients experiencing abuse had few options when it came to moving services. Clients receiving income assistance qualify for one free move paid for by the provincial government. But due to financial constraints and the limited availability of second-stage housing, most women require multiple moves before they can secure permanent accommodation. The reality is that many women will end up returning to their abusive partner because there is nowhere else for them to go. And even if the client is eligible, the paperwork and coordination required can be complex and overwhelming. Security was particularly difficult to arrange. The police could only provide a window of availability and were frequently called away at the last minute, forcing the move to be rescheduled. “This could happen several times,” Rupert recalls, “leaving clients frustrated. They’d say, ‘I’m just going to let this go.’ They don’t want to let it go but they’ve got so much else going on.”
Through its partnership with Shelter Movers Vancouver, the YWCA is now able to provide clients with a safe, free, and reliable moving service which, perhaps most importantly, can be used as many times as needed.
As the manager of transitional housing for the YWCA Vancouver, Shaoli Choudhury is often the contact person when YWCA clients request assistance from Shelter Movers. “What’s incredible is there are often a lot of moving parts but there is a lot of flexibility and empathy on the end of Shelter Movers,” she says. For instance, “understanding that sometimes women aren’t able to pack and asking about whether someone does need help packing and if so, how can we support them?”
Once the YWCA contacts Shelter Movers Vancouver with a move request, the two organizations work together to create a plan that incorporates a variety of factors from the client’s requirements to the YWCA staff schedule and the availability of Shelter Movers volunteers. It can be challenging but Choudhury sees firsthand the benefits.
The YWCA operates three second-stage transition houses in Metro Vancouver including Munroe House, built in 1979 and the first second-stage transition house in Canada. Residents live in independent furnished units for up to two years, pay income-based rent, and, through onsite staff, can access a range of YWCA support programs as well as Shelter Movers’ moving and storage services.
When it comes to moving, as one YWCA client explains, it’s much better to have that support than to try and do it alone.
In addition to providing access to their clients to services like Shelter Movers, the YWCA also continually advocates for long term systemic change. Back in the early 2000s, the YWCA began to see increasing numbers of women with precarious or no legal status in Canada accessing their services. As Rupert recalls, “These were women living with an abusive partner who wasn’t following through on sponsoring them, and struggling because they had no access to any sort of income. They were not eligible to work in Canada, they were not eligible for income assistance, and they couldn’t legally take their children with them if they left Canada. They were really trapped between the intersection of family law and immigration law.”
The YWCA was able to provide these women with free housing at Munroe House and with grocery vouchers. But Rupert and her YWCA colleagues wanted a more long term solution. So, they approached the government to change the eligibility rules. “What meant the most to me was being part of the YWCA team that successfully advocated with the provincial government for them to get access to income assistance. This meant that they could leave their abusers and keep themselves and their children safe” she says.
Every so often when Rupert is onsite at one of the YWCA’s housing communities, she’ll be stopped by former clients who want to tell her how their family’s lives have changed, thanks to the support they’ve received. “That is what feels amazing,” she says. “Shelter Movers, transition house workers, community development workers, our staff lawyer – everyone played a part in supporting this family to be able to live violence-free and to be able to work on their goals and their dreams.”
The YWCA Metro Vancouver provides a variety of services and programs for women experiencing abuse.