Wheels of Change
Marc Hull-Jacquin helps families facing domestic violence move out and move on
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.