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Roommates and friends, thanks to home share program for seniors

Elderly woman holding a small house in her hands
AND-ONE/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Elderly woman holding a small house in her hands

Anna Marie lives in an old farmhouse with Dutch doors, stained glass windows and exposed brick. She’s lived in Pike County for 22 years.

“My husband passed away on November 20th of 2020,” she said. “And I’ve always been afraid to live by myself.”

She hasn’t had to thanks to Pennsylvania’s Shared Housing and Resource Exchange (SHARE) program. Residents can apply to be matched with a like-minded individual to create a shared housing agreement.

"I've always been afraid to live by myself."

SHARE counselor Larisa Yusko matched Anna Marie with her roommate Marlene. The women have asked us not to share their last names. Marlene moved out of a crowded home where she was staying with family into Anna Marie’s home three years ago.

“We sit, we talk,” Marlene said, describing Anna Marie as her friend. “She goes on her laptop and I watch my movies.”

Anna Marie drives when the pair, both in their 80s, go to church and run errands, and Marlene does a lot of the chores around the house. Some matches enter a financial agreement, but these two don’t exchange any money.

Yusko says she spends time getting to know the applicants before introducing them.

“When I’m matching people, I look at the chores, the resources they want to exchange, but also lifestyle,” she said. “I ask about pets, I ask about smoking, alcohol, overnight guests, and then hobbies and interests to make sure that the people are going to be compatible and enhance each other’s life, not hinder it.”

Yusko is the SHARE Housing counselor in Pike, Monroe, and Wayne Counties, where the program started in 2017. It has since expanded to include Adams, Bucks, Carbon, Crawford, Lackawanna, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Snyder and Union Counties.

The program intends to provide companionship and safety for seniors. One person in each match must be 60 or older, but anyone over 18 can apply.

“I’ve actually housed two high school students that were homeless,” Yusko said. “One coming out of a dysfunctional family, and one who was being raised by her grandmother, and her grandmother passed away.”

To date, Yusko said 94 matches have been made in Pike, Monroe, and Wayne Counties. The counselor will plan an introduction and arrange for a temporary trial run before they enter an official agreement. Anna Marie said they clicked right away.

“We’re on the same planet, I mean she’ll say something and I’ll already have known what she’s talking about,” she said, expressing her gratitude for companionship. “It’s nice the way she shares her family with me. I’m always invited to all of their functions.”

The SHARE counselor checks in with the matches to make sure things are going smoothly - once a month at first, and less over time. In the event that a match doesn’t work out, a SHARE counselor can help individuals find another potential roommate.