New Times SLO: Moving For Freedom
New Times, San Luis Obispo May 1, 2003
Local businessman Aaron Steed moves survivors of domestic violence to new homes for free.
After he hung up with a frantic woman on the phone, Aaron Steed of San Luis Obispo knew what he had to do. The 17 year old jumped in his Meathead Movers truck and drove to the woman’s home to pack up her belongings and move her to a safer house without charge. More calls followed from wives, girlfriends and mothers trying to escape their abusive households.
“You could hear the terror in their voices.” Steed, now 22, said about the domestic violence victims. “I just felt like I had to help.”
Since Steed started his business in 1997, he has been providing free moving service for men and women leaving abusive relationships. “People don’t realize domestic violence has no barriers,” Steed said. “We live in a desirable, affluent area. But domestic violence impacts everyone: rich, poor, white, black. It’s everywhere. So much so that the women’s shelter is overburdened.”
Sometimes the abusers were in the home when Steed arrived, which made for scary confrontations. One time a man threw a toaster at Steed for moving out his wife.
Finally, Steed’s attorney told him he had to stop because he’d end up being killed or killing somebody. The attorney suggested Steed contact the Women’s Shelter Program of San Luis Obispo County to see if they had suggestions.
The Women’s Shelter was thrilled about Steed’s offer, so they partnered up in 1999 to provide a more comprehensive service to the fleeing abuse survivors. And Steed doesn’t have to worry about getting shot on the job because the Shelter provides protection for him and the victim while they clear out the house.
Now when Steed gets a call from a battered woman, he refers them to the Women’s Shelter. The shelter then conducts a short interview to determine if the caller is a victim of domestic violence, coordinates a time when the move will take place, and offers all of the shelter’s other services-counseling, housing, food, and legal advice.
“This way the women are not only getting help with moving, but they’re also learning what other services we offer to create a healthy, safe lifestyle for themselves and their children,” said Sara Galetti, assistant director at that shelter.The shelter then contacts Steed with the time and place, and provides a police officer or a trained women’s shelter counselor to supervise the move.
“It’s so generous of Aaron to donate his service for women trying to leave dangerous situations,” Galetti said. “We appreciate him so much. We try to screen to make sure everyone’s safe.”
Most of the calls forwarded to the Women’s Shelter, though, aren’t from battered men or women. A lot of desperate people call to get the free service because they’re being evicted. Galetti doesn’t leave them hanging; she refers the evictees to other services that can help, but they don’t qualify for Meathead Mover’s free service.
It’s a huge help for women financially because a move can run $700 to $1200, and oftentimes women don’t have much money because their husband or boyfriend controls the purse strings. A lot of women don’t have many friends to help them out with the move because they’ve been isolated from friends and family during the relationship.
Meathead Movers is the only moving business in the county doing this kind of work, according to Steed. Steed and his co-owner and brother Evan Steed also provide free services to other nonprofits like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and the Alzheimer’s Association. But the domestic violence service is close to his heart.
“It feels great,” Steed said. “That’s the best part about this job. I’m familiar with [domestic violence] situations. I’m familiar with the effects domestic violence has on a family. Until you see it, you don’t realize the impact it has.”
His work with battered women is so important to Steed that it’s a prerequisite to being hired at his company. Employees must be sympathetic to the cause and be able to move women from abusive households. Steed takes pride in the fact he owns a student-athlete business. He hires young wrestlers and football players who jog from the house to the truck when they aren’t lifting furniture. Many times the women
Meathead Movers help are so frightened and nervous they don’t thank him after the move, but he’ll receive phone calls a year later from women sharing their appreciation and letting him know they’re in a better place.
“We’re in a position to do something good here, to help people rebuild their lives,” Steed said. “And that is very rewarding,”