Seniors who have lived with a spouse or partner for years face many life changes when they find themselves alone in a home they’ve always shared. For some folks, the need for companionship, assistance maintaining a home, and/or additional income may all be handled by finding the right person with whom to share their home.
But good matches are the tricky part. Many online matching programs don’t achieve home sharing matches that last over time, says Alison Joucovsky, founder of the Denver non-profit Sunshine Home Share. She says statistics show nonprofit programs run by social workers, using an extensive matching process, achieve longer and happier matches.
A few years ago Joucovsky was working in an innovative program to support aging in the community—but she was spending most of her time taking phone calls about housing for seniors on fixed incomes. She starting researching what other communities were doing and learned there are 64 nonprofit homeshare programs for seniors in the country that are successfully matching people in homes with seniors.
Hosts in Sunshine Home Share are age 55 or older. Home seekers are 21 or older. Currently half the matches are a senior and a millennial and half are a senior with a senior. One current home provider, age 99, is matched with a millennial. Each home host has unique needs, as does each home seeker.
Christine Cleary, who lives in the Hale neighborhood, says after her husband died she started feeling the stress of taking care of everything alone, particularly keeping up with yard work. And though she’s healthy and active and does volunteer work, she says, “It’s a matter of sharing responsibility and having somebody here.” She signed up for homesharing a couple years ago and has met five home seekers so far. “I’m not in a hurry. I want to find the right person I feel comfortable with…someone with compatible lifestyle and diet…and similar interests…I like how careful they (Sunshine) are about this whole process. You just can’t find someone on the internet.”
United Way, the cities of Denver and Arvada, Arapahoe County, and multiple foundations have provided funding to Sunshine Home Share. The non-profit offers an economical solution for populations those entities serve. At $28/hour for home health care services, 10 hours a week of services that would enable a person to stay in their home would cost $15,000 a year. A home host, with space for a compatible home seeker, could get those services at no cost and at the same time provide housing far below the $1,485 average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Denver. With an average rent of $330 in the Sunshine program last year with four hours per week service, the home seeker would save over $1,000/month—and the home host could age in place and even gain some income.
Looked at another way, says Joucovsky, in a city where the average affordable housing unit costs $250,000 to build, 10 home hosts could save the city $2.5 million in construction costs.
Currently Sunshine has more seekers than hosts and is actively looking for more hosts. The process of becoming a host requires about 18-22 hours of staff time, starting with a two-hour intake interview that covers personality, mental health, hobbies, home logistics and service needs to screen and match hosts with home seekers. References are checked, along with background and credit checks. Home providers are charged a fee for the matching process, based on a sliding scale. Home seekers go through a similar intake process.
When Sunshine finds a possible match, they arrange a meeting. If that’s successful, the parties then spend some time getting acquainted before moving forward with a 2-3 week trial match. If they decide to proceed, Sunshine helps create a detailed contract that defines the expectations for a successful home sharing relationship.
Sunshine staff, who specialize in geriatric social work, meet quarterly with the home seekers and providers to discuss challenges and successes. When a match ends, they help set up an exit plan that may include final rent, moving date, cleanliness, etc.
For more info call 303.915.8264 or visit www.sunshinehomeshare.org.