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December 2018
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Adding Life to Years
by Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss
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Home Sharing: A Program That Can Help Homelessness and Limited Income Seniors 

Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss
Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss

Most seniors want to age in their own homes and stay in the community but many may feel a bit lonely, or could use help with living expenses or with the housework. Home Share programs offer a practical, safe solution. They match homeowners, usually seniors, with home seekers of all ages who need a place to live and perhaps are willing to trade services for reduced rent.

Home Sharing is a living arrangement among two or more unrelated people. Home owners or renters (Home Providers) who have a residence with two or more bedrooms are matched with persons seeking housing (Home Seekers). Often, especially in college towns, these home seekers are students, others might be low-income seniors or folks in transition due to divorce or changes in employment.

The community is also a beneficiary of Home Sharing. Shared living makes efficient use of existing housing stock, helps preserve the fabric of the neighborhood and, in certain cases, helps to lessen the need for costly chore/care services and long-term institutional care for the senior. A home provider might be a senior, a person with disabilities, a working professional, someone at-risk of homelessness, a single parent, or simply a person wishing to share his or her life and home with others. For these people, shared housing offers companionship, affordable housing, security, mutual support and much more.

The concept of Home Sharing originated with Maggie Kuhn, who rented rooms in her Philadelphia home to younger adults at reduced rates in exchange for services and companionship. For decades Maggie was an incredible creative driving force in the aging field. Maggie Kuhn was an American activist known for founding the Gray Panthers movement after she was forced to retire from her job, at the then mandatory retirement age of 65. The Gray Panthers became known for advocating for nursing home reform and fighting ageism, claiming that "old people and women constitute America's biggest untapped and undervalued human energy source." She dedicated her life to fighting for human rights, social and economic justice, global peace, integration, and an understanding of mental health issues. For decades, she combined her activism with caring for her mother, who had a disability that required her to receive assistance in her care, and a brother who suffered from mental illness. I was fortunate to know and work a little with Maggie Kuhn. She was an innovative force and wonderful human.

According to the National Shared Housing Resource Center, established by Maggie Kuhn in 1981, home share agencies now exist in more than 20 states. They range from hands-on programs that do background checks, arrange matches and serve as mediators to agencies that simply provide information on resources in an area.

For example, the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens (NYFSC) created a free home sharing program that helps link adult “hosts” with extra private spaces in their homes or apartments with appropriate adult “guests”. In that program, one of the match mates must be age 60 or older. The program also serves adult “hosts” age 55 or older, who are interested in sharing with developmentally disabled adult “guests” capable of independent living.

Professional social work staff comprehensively screen and check the references of all host and guest applicants. They use “Quick-Match”, a unique database, to help them determine the most potentially compatible match mates by inputting their 31 lifestyle objectives. To facilitate potential hosts and guests in determining their compatibility and willingness to be matched in a shared living arrangement with one another, the staff schedule and attend “match meetings”. Prior to moving in, the service offers a written agreement to help hosts and guests feel a level of confidence and sense of security in their shared living arrangements.

For more than three decades, the enthusiasm of participants in NYFSC’s Home Sharing Program has run high. Home Sharing has attracted considerable recognition in the New York media as a fresh approach that works and has also gained national recognition as an affordable housing opportunity that can provide financial relief as well as companionship. Both hosts and guests benefit from reduced housing costs and the possibility of companionship to offset the isolation and loneliness experienced by many living alone, which benefits all.

Funding for the Home Sharing program is received through the New York State Legislators, New York State Office for the Aging, New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, New York City Department for the Aging, New York City Council Members’ and Borough Presidents’ discretionary funds, as well as private contributions. Nevada, especially the cities of Reno and Sparks, as well as Washoe County, should take note and start investing in such a program.

People who participate in Home Sharing, either Home Providers or Home Seekers, save money, share utility costs, reduce financial worry, provide mutual assistance, and increase security and independence. Certainly extending the life of seniors in the community living in a home and not an institution “adds life to years”.

Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at larry@addinglifetoyears.com or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.