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Shared Living Gives Elderly an Option

December 21, 1986|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

Helen, a 65-year-old divorcee, was afraid she would have to sell her home because she was retiring and her reduced income would not cover expenses.

Jean, an elderly widow, could not afford to live by herself but did not want to be forced into a board-and-care facility.

Stephen, a widower, felt lonely living by himself and was afraid that he might suffer a heart attack when no one was there to help.

Joe, a retired veteran, was looking for a place he could afford in a good neighborhood.

Home-Sharing Program

The problems of all four San Gabriel Valley residents, who asked not to be identified by their real names, were recently solved through a home-sharing program sponsored by the Santa Anita Family Service Senior Center in Monrovia.

Jean moved in with Helen, thus staying out of a senior citizens facility and paying rent that enabled her new landlady to keep her home. Joe moved in with Stephen after agreeing to stay home at night in exchange for reduced rent.

"We want to make it possible for two people to continue living independently," said Lynda Christison, director of the senior center. "Our goal is to find good, safe housing for seniors."

The center, which provides the elderly in Monrovia and Duarte with a variety of information and referral programs paid for by the county Agency on Aging, began its home-sharing program 18 months ago for senior citizens in those cities as well as Azusa and Glendora.

Expanded Program

The program was expanded last July to include Alhambra, Baldwin Park, Bradbury, Covina, El Monte, Irwindale, Rosemead, San Gabriel, Temple City and West Covina.

Share-a-Home of Pasadena, the other home-share program in the San Gabriel Valley, was founded in 1983 and serves only that city. Officials of that program could not be reached for comment.

"People are usually interested in home sharing because of financial hardship and a need for companionship," said Babette Rothschild, administrator of the Monrovia center program. "But it doesn't work well if it is just for the money. People need to be interested in being in contact with another human being."

The center arranges about four matches each month. Each pair must include at least one person 60 or older. Those seeking a place to live pay rent, which may be reduced in exchange for such things as doing housework, cooking meals or acting as a companion. The residence, whether a large house or a small apartment, must have a separate bedroom for each resident.

"We start out by asking for three references and then conduct in-depth interviews," said Christison. Those seeking a place to stay are interviewed at the center.

Home Visits

"We visit the home of the provider to evaluate the size, condition and location," Christison said. "We get to know the people and their preferences so we can help them be more aware of the reality of having a roommate."

Before a match is agreed upon, center officials try to make sure that the two people are a compatible as possible. For example, such potential irritants as pets, smoking, social activities, home heating and cooling preferences, kitchen privileges and restrictions on noise from televisions and stereos must be considered.

"After the pre-screening, we get gut feelings about whether people will hit it off, but the decision is up to the two people involved," Christison said.

"We suggest that they take a couple of weeks to get to know each other before making a decision and that they then have a written agreement on the arrangements they make to help them work out problems later."

50 Calls a Month

About 50 people who think home sharing might be a solution for them call the center each month.

"There are many reasons why people decide against it," Rothschild said. "Some need a place immediately, but the screening process takes about two weeks and then there might not be a match available right away. Some really want a 24-hour home health aide, but we don't serve someone who is looking for a full-time caretaker.

"Some people get scared at the idea of sharing their home and living with a stranger. Others are not sure they want to live with someone else. Going through our process is valuable because it clarifies a person's thoughts," Rothschild said.

The center receives $60,000 each year from the county, from federal funds provided under Older Americans Act. The service is provided free to those seeking housing or a roommate.

About three-fourths of those using the program are women. Participants may share housing with a person of either sex.

"Most women want other women," Christison said. "But some men, especially those recently widowed, are looking for women because they want someone to take care of them."

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