Wheels of Change

Marc Hull-Jac­quin helps fam­i­lies fac­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence move out and move on

Reader's Digest (Canada) - - Contents - BY MOIRA FARR PHOTOGRAPHY BY JEN­NIFER ROBERTS

Marc Hull-Jac­quin helps fam­i­lies fac­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence move out and move on. MOIRA FARR

IT WAS EARLY IN 2017 when Nithya Caleb re­al­ized she had to leave her mar­riage. A re­cent im­mi­grant from In­dia, she no longer felt safe in her home, but with no fam­ily and few friends in Canada, there was no one close to turn to for help. Some ac­quain­tances ad­vised her to stay in the mar­riage, keep her prob­lems pri­vate and make it work. When she could no longer do that, there was lit­tle sym­pa­thy. “My so­cial cir­cle aban­doned me,” she says. “There was just si­lence.”

Caleb, 37, had a job in Toronto as an ed­i­tor, but money was tight and the lo­gis­tics of a solo move with her seven-year-old son im­pos­si­ble. Al­though she was able to find a suitable place to live, she couldn’t fig­ure out how to se­cure her be­long­ings: “I thought I would have to leave ev­ery­thing be­hind.” That’s when a so­cial worker with the Chil­dren’s Aid So­ci­ety told her about Shel­ter Movers, a non-profit that helps women and chil­dren exit abu­sive homes.

Shel­ter Movers as­sisted Caleb in de­ter­min­ing what she would need and when they could safely do the job. Still, she was amazed when mov­ing day came and four vol­un­teers showed up with a rental truck. “They were lovely souls,” she says. “It gave me hope that there were strangers who would of­fer this ser­vice. It was deeply em­pow­er­ing.”

An es­ti­mated 93,000 peo­ple in Canada were vic­tims of in­ti­mate part­ner vi­o­lence in 2016; Shel­ter Movers

wants to be an ally to af­fected fam­i­lies seek­ing respite. “We will do what we can to help them get into a safe space,” says Marc Hull-Jac­quin, the stay-at-home dad who started the or­ga­ni­za­tion from his Toronto home two years ago.

Hull-Jac­quin, 39, was on pa­ter­nity leave from his job as a ne­go­tia­tor for a nat­u­ral gas com­pany when he de­cided to take on a pas­sion project. His happy ex­pe­ri­ences with his own chil­dren got him think­ing about peo­ple who, due to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, aren’t in a po­si­tion to pro­vide a safe space for their kids. Af­ter do­ing some read­ing on the topic, he launched Shel­ter Movers, loosely based on the model of a sim­i­lar or­ga­ni­za­tion in Cal­i­for­nia.

Mod­est about his role, Hull-Jac­quin gives credit to the vol­un­teers and the clients them­selves. “Our suc­cess comes from the courage that women show in reach­ing out and ask­ing for help to leave, of­ten af­ter many tries. There can be a lot of guilt and shame to over­come.”

To­day, Shel­ter Movers has com­pleted al­most 500 moves. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has chap­ters in Ot­tawa and Van­cou­ver as well as Toronto, and more than 250 vol­un­teers, from newly ar­rived refugees to bank­ing ex­ec­u­tives. It has part­nered with women’s shel­ters, cor­po­rate donors and other com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions that help women and chil­dren es­cape vi­o­lence. For ex­am­ple, Gar­daWorld se­cu­rity will pro­vide guards for es­corted moves free of charge, and sev­eral stor­age com­pa­nies al­low Shel­ter Movers’ clients to use space for as long as re­quired.

Board chair Vicky Sage, who works at a women’s shel­ter in the north end of Toronto, says she in­stantly rec­og­nized the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s po­ten­tial when Hul­lJac­quin first con­tacted her. “I saw what a great ser­vice it was and how it re­lieved so much stress and fi­nan­cial strain for peo­ple at the most vul­ner­a­ble time.” Iron­i­cally, she says that hav­ing a priv­i­leged male as a spokesper­son for the cause proves the point that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is some­thing that should con­cern ev­ery­one.

Hull-Jac­quin agrees. It’s not just up to women who’ve wit­nessed or ex­pe­ri­enced vi­o­lence to tackle the is­sue, he says. “In this ‘Me Too’ era, men need to ask them­selves what side of his­tory we want to be on. Are we go­ing to be cham­pi­ons of a new way of think­ing that en­sures we all get a chance in life? This is a solv­able prob­lem.”

To­day, Shel­ter Movers has com­pleted al­most 500 moves in three cities and has more than 250 vol­un­teers.

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