Sharing in the support
Lonely or vulnerable elderly people who want to stay in their own homes have a new option, writes Caroline Allen
While downsizing has been mooted as one way of freeing up housing stock, many older people baulk at leaving their neighbourhood and friends. Yet, according to a 2016 ESRI report on housing and older people, 13.9pc of people living alone are in houses of seven or more rooms.
At the same time, the cost of rental accommodation is causing huge problems in urban areas, with the annual increase in rents at 10pc for the past two years. So homesharing, already popular in the US, seems to solve two problems at once.
Enter THE HomeShare (thehomeshare.ie), a social enterprise that brings together older people who require a little support in their homes and those who need accommodation.
"It matches two unrelated people to live together for mutual benefit," says Lucie Cunningham, managing director of THE HomeShare (Together Helping Each Other).
She describes how a match in Churchtown worked to extend one man's independence. "The householder was in the middle of filling in his paperwork for the Fair Deal scheme to move into long-term care in a nursing home, which he really didn't want to do.
"He felt he had no other option due to his loneliness, living on his own, and his declining eyesight which made him very vulnerable," she recalls. "Once we found a suitable match for him, his loneliness levels decreased significantly and he no longer feels isolated and vulnerable. His sharer is a student who now lives closer to college and no longer has the daily commute from Offaly to Dublin."
In six months, the scheme has received more than 400 applications from a mix of householders and people interested in sharing. "Sharers are made up of students, professionals or retired persons. We have many potential sharers waiting for a suitable home so they can save up for a deposit to be able to get on the property ladder themselves," Lucie says. "Others are students who cannot afford the high rents in cities or professionals who want to live in a lovely home, close to their place of work but who don't want to share with too many people."
There are approximately 30 potential sharers waiting for an appropriate match and about 20 householders. Typically, the householder is an older person who wishes to remain at home but may need companionship and support. The sharer gives 10 hours a week of companionship and agrees to be there overnight.
Both parties pay a monthly fee of €195 which funds the initiative and allows them to provide support for as long as the arrangement lasts. There is also a one-off placement fee of €350 per participant to pay for advertising and the vetting process. But much like Airbnb, no money changes hands between the participants except, in some cases, a contribution to utility bills.
The scheme operates in Dublin, Kildare, Galway and Cork and could be a boon to cash-strapped students. The accommodation offered varies but most homes have three or four bedrooms. An application for sharers, from the time an enquiry is received to moving in, takes roughly three weeks. For the householder, once they have been assessed, the process takes about a week.
"Roughly about 40pc of potential sharers are approved, based on their personality, command of the English language, general character and experience of engaging with potentially vulnerable adults," says Lucie.
All homesharers are Garda vetted, with their references checked verbally. They're also encouraged to take part in safeguarding vulnerable adult training, provided free by the HSE. All participants agree that if there is a gross breach of conduct by one party, the arrangement can be terminated immediately.
"If problems arise, which are usually very minor," says Lucie, "we are on hand to support both participants in coming to a resolution."
The feedback to date, says Lucie, has been overwhelmingly positive. She is in contact with Jim Daly, Minister for Mental Health and Older People, and aims one day to integrate homesharing into the future of homecare in Ireland.
"I would welcome discussions with Minister Eoghan Murphy," she adds, "so we could explore homesharing as a viable option for the housing, homeless and rental crisis."
‘Anna gives me tea and toast in the morning and a drink of Ovaltine at night’
They may be decades apart in age but homeowner Elizabeth Clarke (93) and homesharer Anna Fuentes (22) have plenty to chat about as part of their daily interaction. They share a love of Netflix and reading, for starters.
As soon as Elizabeth, who lives in Dublin’s northside, heard about THE HomeShare, she put her name forward as a candidate to share her home with someone who could help out with a few tasks and stay overnight in exchange for accommodation.
“I had someone staying with me at night but it was costing me a lot of money. When Lucie asked me if I would be interested, I thought there could be no losers in a homeshare,” says Elizabeth. “I have five daughters and I wouldn’t like to see them having to look for accommodation at present, with the cost of rents. I think it’s ridiculous what landlords are charging and there should be a cap on what they are allowed charge,” she says.
“Anna is very busy working and in college — she always has so much to do. I don’t ask her to do a lot as I have carers as well. She gives me tea and toast in the morning and a drink of Ovaltine at night,” says Elizabeth.
“I like my own company and do a lot of reading and jigsaws but I like conversation as well and we have little chats,” she adds. “Knowing someone is there at night is great. I am in good health but my legs are a bit wobbly and you need someone there when you get to that stage.”
For Anna, a college student on a work placement close to Elizabeth’s home, the arrangement which gives her a bedroom and her own sitting room, is ideal. “I had been living in Swords with my family and the landlord wanted to sell the house. I was thinking that I would have to take four buses a day to get to and from work when I saw THE HomeShare ad on a student group that I’m part of on Facebook,” she says.
“I thought it was too good to be true — I thought it was a scam. However, after I met Elizabeth and Lucie explained my duties, and I was Garda vetted, I moved in really quickly.
“The arrangement works very well for me. I explained that I work from 9am to 5pm and go to the gym five or six times a week and Elizabeth was absolutely fine with that. At the weekends, her daughters come over. We’re in a WhatsApp group and I let them know if I can stay for some weekends,” Anna says.
She enjoys chatting with Elizabeth and hearing about her life.
“Elizabeth was a dressmaker and I found it really interesting to see pieces she worked with and also photographs of herself when she was younger. There is one of herself and her husband and they look so sophisticated. It’s nice to see a positive example of ageing.”
While Anna is delighted to avoid a lengthy commute, and save money into the bargain, she warns that the arrangement is not for everyone. “If you are the type that likes to stay out late and go to the pub, it won’t work. You have to be home at a reasonable time. Homesharing is suitable for students with a certain lifestyle,” she says.
“I rarely have anyone over as I feel it wouldn’t be appropriate, although Elizabeth always tells me I can. I’d rather go into town to meet friends in a cafe,” says Anna.
“Elizabeth has been really good about doing whatever I have asked such as putting up a shower curtain and turning up the heating. She’s really lovely.
“Every host is different, with varying ages and requirements but this arrangement really works for me.”