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Could you share your home?
Grassroots program connects “providers” with “seekers”

08/07/14



 Are you interested in sharing a home? This is a great opportunity for someone looking for a nice, safe housing solution. Share a home with an elderly person [and] trade some services like providing transportation, doing some household chores and maintenance for a reduced rent. 

Does that offer sound tempting or scary?
Shifts in the state’s age and financial demographics mean more locals are getting creative about housing options. Homeshare NH, an emerging program run by a nonprofit called The Moore Center, put out the advertisement above in hopes of helping one of its new clients, a 90-year-old woman, find the ideal roommate match. 
“It’s not people’s first choice, but there are a lot of elderly people who are not sick. There’s just some stuff they can’t do anymore, and they wouldn’t have thought of this option a year ago, but now it might work,” said Kathy Boylan, director of Moore Options for Seniors. 
The concept is simple, Boylan said. Members of the state’s older population who wish to remain in their homes and communities but feel unsafe or need help around the house apply with the Moore Center.
“We call them the home providers and typically they are living in large homes with more bedrooms than they need and are entertaining the idea of finding someone looking for a housing situation,” Boylan said. 
Those people are called the “seekers” and the program assesses and interviews both parties, then assists in negotiating an agreement between home providers and seekers. Seekers are provided with low- or no-cost housing in exchange for a pre-determined set of services ranging from light housekeeping and driving to simple company. 
Boylan said that the program could help low-income elderly people stay out of the Medicaid system, where they often struggle to find services or funds necessary for living. 
Too often she hears the same story from people who receive Medicaid and are struggling financially, she said. People get into the system because they have an accident or fall, end up in the hospital, are sent into rehab, “and then rehab says, ‘We don’t think you should go home. It’s not safe.’ So they end up in long-term care, run out of money, and then you’re a Medicaid client.”
Making homeshare connections in the dark — perhaps through a website like Craigslist — has the potential to be unsafe. HomeShare NH will screen each applicant, running criminal background and sex offender registries checks. Then they’ll step out of the picture, but if conflicts do arise they will be available to help mediate. 
“I have a whole house and I’m by myself, so it seems like logical,” said 58-year-old Caroline Chadwick of Derry, who hopes to be matched up with a seeker through the program. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but the Moore Center does the background checks and does the paperwork on everything, and a contract, so everything’s black and white and I think that’s a better way to do it.”
The organization is still in the process of making the first matches. They have about 40 candidates, half of whom are in rural areas, and more are providers than seekers, who can be difficult to track down. 
The new program is based on Vermont’s more than 30-year-old homesharing program that receives state and municipal funding, as well as grant money from a variety of sources. 
Homeshare VT uses a model that doesn’t target a specific age demographic, which according to Kirby Dunn, the program’s executive director, helps develop a large enough applicant pool. They find that home providers tend be older than seekers. The average age of people offering their space is 70 years, with a range from 25 to 96 years old. The average person moving in is 45 years old, with a range from 25 to 68 years. 
“With a program like this, the more people you  have in a pool of applicants the better they might match up, so it is a harder program to work in a more rural area because you just don’t have that pool,” Kirby said. “If you just have 10 with housing and 10 looking for homes, you might not have one of those 10 as a match, but if you have 100 of each all of a sudden your numbers might go up to 45.”
Seekers’ personal requirements often rule options out automatically. The big deal-breakers have to do with cost, location, gender and pet and smoking rules. 
But when a match does get made, it can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. In one Vermont scenario a woman who lived on a large farm applied for a homeshare after her husband died. Six months later a woman with cows came along looking for a place to live. 
“It just becomes this really wonderful match,” Boylan said. “The farm is up and running again on a smaller scale.”
Homeshare NH is dealing with the issue of funding now. For the past two years, it’s gotten some support from the Elliot Hospital’s Pearl Manor Fund, but that’s about to run out and it is looking for more sources. 
New Hampshire State Rep. Laurie Harding, who chairs the human services and elderly affairs committee, said the state government  is concerned with and looking into housing options for the aging community. 
“We need to be looking for every possible creative option given what our demographic looks like going forward,” Harding said. 
She’s found that the state’s elderly want to be able to stay in their own community, but there are very few housing options available, and as they get more isolated, they want to be surrounded by people of like minds. 
Despite its concern and support of grassroots community efforts, it’s not likely the state will be chipping in  funding for the services anytime soon. Right now, it’s busy trying to manage and implement the Medicaid expansion program, which was signed into law in late March and is slated to cover about 50,000 additional low-income adults eligible for federal subsidies. 
“I think the state would absolutely be very excited about these types of programs,” Harding said. “Whether or not we can make a commitment to support them financially remains to be seen.”  
 
As seen in the August 7, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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