Program matching older adults with students in need of housing

LONDON: A program that pairs seniors wanting to stay in their homes with students needing affordable housing is coming to Winnipeg.

The Canada Home Share program started in Toronto in 2018 as an intergenerational home-sharing initiative. It’s since been replicated in other cities in southern Ontario and Vancouver, B.C.

Seniors with extra space in their home apply to the program and are matched with students looking for a place to live. The students agree to do a few hours of light housework during the week in exchange for a place to live for about $400 to $600 a month.

A 2017 study by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis found that there were five million empty bedrooms in Ontario alone.

Many of those rooms are in the homes of seniors, which presents an opportunity to address affordable housing issues in a creative way, while also helping seniors stay in their homes longer, says Dr. Raza Mirza, the network manager for the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly, which created the program.

However, Mizra says, it’s about more than making housing more affordable, it’s also about helping seniors feel less isolated while creating opportunities for youth to forge real connections with people from an older generation.

“What you see from … some of the stories in this program is that people quickly forget about the age difference between these two individuals,” he said. “And actually what happens is that a very strong friendship develops between most of these individuals.”

The student and senior are not matched up randomly, Mizra says. The program tries to match people based on their compatibility.

Longtime seniors’ advocate Trish Rawsthorne says she thinks the idea could work well in Winnipeg, but might not be for everyone.

Some seniors might like the idea of having a young person in their home for companionship, Rawsthorne says, or to do things such as walk their dog for them. It might also make them feel safer since they’re not alone.

However, others might not want to have a stranger living in their home.

“So there’s a lot of benefits that people can have, but then there’s a loss of privacy, a demand on somebody that they think they have to be conversationalists,” she said.

But overall, there is a great need to find ways to help seniors stay in their homes comfortably, Rawsthorne says, pointing out that only a small percentage of seniors end up in a long-term care facility.

“It’s an ageist attitude we have that everyone who is getting old will end up overloading the health-care system, overloading long term care and we won’t have any beds, but that’s not true,” she said.

“We’re healthier than our previous generation, and we intend to keep ourselves that way, and a lot of us do have the financial wherewithal to do that.”

Mizra says the Canada Home Share program is planning on launching in Winnipeg this summer, with hopes of pairing people up by the fall in time for the start of university.