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'A SHARING PROPOSITION' : Program Matches Elderly People in a Sort of Marriage of Convenience

August 03, 1989|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

Juanita Davis, 66, and Joseph Wilson, 87, had a lot in common before they met.

Both are Baptists who grew up in the South in homes lacking indoor plumbing. They like to read, watch Westerns on television, putter in the garden and dabble at fix-it projects.

Both recently widowed, they also yearned for companionship and understanding. Then they were matched as roommates by Glendale's Home Sharing for the Elderly program.

"We have a lot of things to talk about," said Davis, who has lived with Wilson since last December in the modest three-bedroom home he rents in Glendale.

Davis said she was a little frightened by the city's suggestion that she live with a man. Now, she said, the two have formed a strong friendship. "If I make a mistake, he hollers at me, and I holler back," she said.

Wilson, who calls it "a sharing proposition," pays the rent and provides food and other household needs. Davis does most of the chores, mends Wilson's clothes, handles correspondence and answers the telephone in exchange for room and board.

Once-Lonely Souls

The pair are among 292 once-lonely souls who have been matched since the city began its home sharing program in 1985.

Operated by the city Parks Department, the program is designed to pair home-seekers--usually low-income individuals who cannot afford comfortable quarters on their own--with home-providers--often elderly widows or widowers living alone in large homes or apartments.

The Glendale program is one of about 50 in the state, said Lois Almen, executive director of the Human Investment Project in San Mateo County and a spokeswoman for the newly formed California Home Sharing Assn. Members are scheduled to meet in September to map strategy to promote home-sharing programs throughout the state, Almen said.

The concept of shared housing is not new. Boarding houses were common until single-family tract developments emerged after World War II, according to the Shared Housing Resource Center in Pennsylvania, a national clearinghouse established in 1981.

"It really is an old idea that has gone full circle," said Claire Matthews, director of communications for the resource center, which estimates that the number of programs promoting shared housing nationally has grown from about 50 in 1981 to more than 400 today.

"It is an idea whose time has come," Matthews said.

But matching strangers who are not used to sharing a roof is not an easy task. Only about half of the matches made in Glendale survive longer than a few months, said Cynthia Tyler, program supervisor.

"It's a difficult thing to mesh two personalities," said Tyler, who operates the program out of the Glendale Adult Center at 201 E. Colorado St.

"A lot of the people have lived by themselves for a long time," she said. "They have become very set in their ways. It's hard for them to learn to compromise.

'Not an Easy Thing'

"When you look at the divorce rate at which relationships break up--I mean, there you have at least an initial physical attraction--you really have to be invested to keep a partnership together," she said. "It's not an easy thing to do."

The city attempts to match 80 people a year. An annual budget of $40,000 from federal community development funds pays for a full-time supervisor and a part-time administrative intern.

In addition, the city has used state grant money--about $17,000 allocated every two years--to pay for a part-time clerk-typist. That position was expected to be replaced this year by a part-time social worker who would be assigned to recruit home-sharing candidates at the new Sparr Heights Senior Center in Montrose, Tyler said.

However, state funds for home sharing have been cut from the budget this year by Gov. George Deukmejian. Officials in Sacramento said they doubt that the funds will be restored before the budget is finalized in September, largely because of the relatively low success rate of home-sharing programs.

Robert MacLaughlin, a consultant to the Senate subcommittee on aging, argues that the money spent to promote programs--about $1,000 per match--is minuscule compared to the cost of institutionalizing an individual who otherwise could remain independent--about $14,000 a year on a national average.

The state money accounts for only a small portion of Glendale's program but could significantly affect expansion plans locally and statewide, according to Tyler and shared-housing leaders.

The state has provided more than $1.2 million and assisted more than 10,000 elderly people since it began a shared-housing program in 1981, according to Julie Stewart, assistant director of public affairs for the state Department of Housing and Community Development. The money was cut from the budget this year because of a decrease in tidelands oil revenue, Stewart said.

'Not for Everyone'

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