Homeshare helps younger people, often students, find low-cost accommodation by matching them with an older people that they can offer companionship to, along with practical support around the home. This is a model that can help reduce demands on housing, as well as health and social care.
A combination of not-for-profit agencies and private companies currently operate homeshare models across the country. Within these there are some great success stories and an increasing amount of support being shown from statutory services, such as social care departments and NHS bodies.
Whilst homeshare schemes are growing in number across the UK, they are still in their infancy compared with similar models in Europe, Canada and Australia. That is why in this article I am going to take you a whistle-stop tour of homeshare schemes across the world, starting with our commonwealth cousin, Canada.
Homeshare is well embedded within Canada and has been operating for more than 20 years.
In a recent online article, Homeshare Canada’s programme manager, Tina Webb, said ““With a Homeshare program, many seniors could get the support they need to age in place by meeting the needs of those seeking affordable housing,”. Feedback from older homesharers themselves included the following comment: “I have been successfully sharing my home for over 20 years. As I have grown older, I have found the advantages to me have greatly increased as I have been able to arrange for assistance in managing my house and property.”
A further article focused on the Northumberland area of Ontario, Canada. An outreach support worker for the area said of homeshare: ““We’ve got this situation where essentially people are dying of loneliness, and we have no capacity in long-term care which is an expensive solution for things…The longer someone can stay in their house and have the company of another person, the more they benefit from significant health benefits.”
If we look even further away from home, Australia, there is increasing coverage of the homeshare model in local and national press, including national television.
The co-ordinator of the homeshare programme in Australia, HANZA, is well established having been in operation for over 10 years. Like in the UK, much of the coverage is focused on the potential benefits homeshare can bring to large cities where affordable housing is stretched and access to home help services for older people is limited.
One article discussed whether homeshare was a solution to the affordable housing ‘crisis’ in Sydney, with one daughter of a householder saying “My mother is 93 and has a big house. She’s had a serial number of students and young people come and stay with her. It takes the worry off me, as I don’t have to worry about her taking a fall … she’s got some company in the house.”
So what about closer to home, in Europe? Austria is in a similar position to the UK where homeshare is considered a relatively new model, but one that is growing.
One provider in Vienna, WGE! only established themselves this year but have already attracted a number of older householders and a ready supply of homesharers, in the form of Vienna’s 200,000 students. Interestingly, as well as older people living by themselves, WGE! also arranged a homesharer for a 55 year old lady, who is a single mother with a 16 year old daughter. Both the mother and daughter can live independently but felt that having an ‘older sister’ figure would be beneficial for the daughter.
When asked about what the major challenges to starting up a successful homeshare model in Austria, WGE! provided an answer that resonates with the UK: “There is… a greater demand for rooms as there are rooms available. This is the main challenge that we continue to face: finding open-minded people who are willing to offer a room. For some people who do have rooms, they are hesitant to allow a stranger to live with them”.
Coming back to the UK, what are the challenges facing homeshare and has there been any success in developing and sustaining this model?
Since the first UK scheme was established in 1993, a considerable number of private and not-for-profit agencies have offered this service across the country. There are currently 27 providers, at the time of writing. Eight of these have recently benefitted from a £2 million fund from the Lloyds Foundation and Big Lottery Fund; Novus Homeshare, Age UK Oxfordshire, Click Homeshare (now closed), Leeds Homeshare, Age UK Isle of Wight, PossAbilities Homeshare (Greater Manchester), Knowsley Homeshare and Edinburgh Development Group Homeshare
Elderly Accommodation Counsel (EAC) and FirstStop have worked closely with Novus Homeshare, the Lloyds Foundation’s beneficiary for the Greater London area. Part of Harrow Carers, they are a charity that understands the increasing demand on the limited resources of social care and the affordable housing crisis that affects older and younger people in the capital.
It is because of this understanding that they have been able to develop relationships with local authorities and social landlords in order to promote homeshare as a housing option for older and younger people alike. Their number of successful matches is growing, but is still subject to many of the same challenges that other homeshare agencies are facing, such as:
• Building up a ‘bank’ of older householders in areas that are considered desirable for younger homesharers.
• Raising awareness of homeshare as a legitimate housing option for older people with a spare bedroom.
• Challenging preconceptions about homeshare, such as the idea of having a stranger coming to live with you.
• Complex queries regarding how taking in a homesharer might affect welfare benefits in certain situations.
Despite these challenges, faced by homeshare agencies across the UK, there is evidence that awareness of homeshare is growing, with recent articles in the Guardian and radio pieces on BBC Sheffield and BBC Scotland helping to raise the profile of homeshare.
Ongoing support from Shared Lives UK and friendly organisations, such as Elderly Accommodation and Age UK, will hopefully continue to build on the current foundations and develop a housing option that helps older people at home, as well as younger people who are struggling to find accommodation.
If you live in London and are interested in Homeshare, you can view the website for Novus HERE.