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‘Taking the fear out of living alone’ – HomeShare program launches in Kingston

A student seeking affordable housing is matched with an older adult needing a helping hand around the house through Canada HomeShare program.
Photo from Canada HomeShare website.

A program supporting both older adults and students—Canada HomeShare, pioneered in Toronto in 2018—is finally coming to Kingston.

With a social worker’s help, adults 55 and older with an empty bedroom in their home are matched with a student 18 and older attending a college or university in Kingston.

“The majority of older adults want to age in place and stay at home, but to do that, they need a little bit of help around the house,” said Jackie Tanner, program manager of Canada HomeShare.

“Why not fill some of these empty bedrooms with students facing an unaffordable rental crisis and having trouble finding safe housing near schools?”

The benefits are two-fold, according to Tanner, as older adults can avail of extra income and a pair of hands to help with everything from opening a jar of peanut butter to mowing the lawn, for a total of up to seven hours a week.

Students benefit as well, as they are able to rent at a discounted price, with charges from $400 to $600 a month, and no other roommates to contend with.

“We only match one student per older adult. They would just be sharing the home with one other person,” Tanner said. “For the type of housing they get and the amount of space they get, it is of value to the student.”

Students seeking an inter-generational dynamic while at school, as well as those who want to make a difference in the community, would be a perfect match to the program.

“Lots of students are used to living with family. When they move, they kinda miss that, they miss having someone (at their house), with a comfortable relationship,” said Tanner.

The younger adult participants in Toronto have expressed a strong desire to give back to the community, with some saying that “I’ve got two strong hands, and I know these older adults are needing that,” Tanner explained.

Students are not expected to provide activities of daily living, such as feeding, giving medication or bathing. The list of things they can assist with include cleaning the house, running errands, raking leaves, cutting grass, cooking a meal, and eating together once a week (which becomes a “companionship task”). Tanner pointed out that the home provider does not have to cook for the student.

An agreement listing out the home provider’s preferences will be signed before a student moves into the home. “It’s task-based, written on the agreement, so there are no surprises,” Tanner added.

The NICE program

The Canada HomeShare program was started by the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE), a non-profit organization made up of practitioners in the field of gerontology, older adults, caregivers, and academics.

A research project studying home sharing around the world became the genesis of the HomeShare program, as NICE tried to translate academic research into actual programming. The research identified that major cities like Toronto have many older adults living alone with empty bedrooms, with the majority wanting to age in place.

“A new trend after COVID [is that] there are students who don’t need to move for commuting purposes, but for a quiet place to learn, with parents and siblings all learning and working from home.”

Jackie Tanner, program manager, Canada homeshare

While taking in boarders is not a new concept, the HomeShare project is a newer, facilitated model, with a social worker in charge of everything.

“Nobody in HomeShare has to do any of the tasks or steps all on their own,” Tanner said.

The social worker screens the students and the home providers, conducts the house visit, looks at all the data on the participants and matches them together, and facilitates the Vulnerable Sector Screening test for both parties, with the agency covering the cost of the test.

NICE applied for and received a United Way KFL&A grant to add a virtual age-friendly community to the Kingston site of Canada HomeShare.

“The community intends to support participants and also will be a way to support applicants who were unable to be matched in the pilot stage,” Tanner revealed.

It is anticipated that the virtual age-friendly community will be launched in early 2022.

Taking the fear out of living alone

Tanner said that the programming had to do a lot of pivoting during the pandemic.

A home provider and a student can benefit from one another through the Canada HomeShare program. Photo from Canada HomeShare website

“A lot of our matches stayed together during COVID. The older adults—the home providers— especially during COVID and winter months, [having students in the house] took the fear out of living alone: knowing there’s someone around to help with the snow, get groceries when everybody was afraid to go outside.”

The students also talked about how their lives would have been different if they were in residence, as some students in residence were “kicked out and have to go home,” Tanner relayed.

Another consequence of the pandemic is that students going back to their parent’s home have to contend with a crowded house. With the pandemic’s online learning, students boarding with older adults get to have a “break” from other family members also attending virtual school and meetings.

“A new trend after COVID [is that] there are students who don’t need to move for commuting purposes, but for a quiet place to learn, with parents and siblings all learning and working from home.”

The age of the students boarding with an older adult can vary greatly. Tanner recounted that they’ve had students who are older than their home providers who are returning to school attending programming such as a paramedics course.

Married couples can also apply to be home providers, even those who are renters, as long as there are no other boarders at the house.

Having a spare room, use of the kitchen, space in the refrigerator, a cupboard to store the student’s food, and space in the bathroom are the only requirements for a home provider.

Tanner said that in Kingston, a social worker has already been hired, and applications should open within the next two weeks.

A Eventbrite virtual information session will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. Tickets are available here.

For more information on the Canada HomeShare program and to participate, click here.

Canada HomeShare is honoured to be collaborating with the Ontario Age-Friendly Communities Outreach Program, managed by the Centre for Studies in Aging and Health at Providence Care to bring their social work facilitated model of shared housing to Kingston, according to the Canada HomeShare website.

Canada HomeShare will also be launching soon in Vancouver and the Peel region.

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