Homeshare bridges age divide

Lorraine with her housemate ShereeBy Tim Lam

Wesley Mission Victoria is breaking down generational barriers through an innovative home sharing program.

Eighty-year-old Lorraine La’Brooy joined Wesley Mission Victoria’s Homeshare program earlier this year. She wanted to continue living in her home in Edithvale, but also needed someone to assist her occasionally around the house.

“Sometimes I need a bit of help because I’m a little bit old,” Lorraine explained.

“I didn’t want a really young person who couldn’t help me, but I also didn’t want a very old person because I didn’t want to help them all the time.”

Homeshare is a shared living arrangement program that matches people aged over 65, or adults with a disability, with a younger home sharer. The home sharer provides household assistance, companionship and contributes to utility costs in return for free accommodation.

The terms of the arrangement are unique to each pairing. Some householders simply want someone to share dinner with; others may need help with cleaning, shopping, gardening and laundry.

The program has run for the past 15 years, successfully matching more than 470 people from diverse backgrounds and age groups in Victoria’s southern metropolitan region.

Wesley’s social support coordinator, Lynn Burke, introduced Lorraine to 30-year-old Sheree Tanner.

“I was a bit nervous at first when Lynn said she’s only 30,” Lorraine reflected.

“But then again, I’ve got a granddaughter who’s 35, so I thought maybe we can get along.”

Sheree is a student at Chisolm TAFE undertaking a certificate in allied health assistance. She encountered the Homeshare program through a friend who saw an advertisement in the TAFE cafeteria.

“What intrigued me and stood out to me was the mutual benefit of it,” Sheree said.

“I’ll be living in a place providing companionship, which will also be helping me out financially as I’m a student and receiving Austudy.”

For Sheree, volunteering as a homesharer also enhanced her career prospects in the health and medical field.

“Given my past aged-care experience, and looking after my mum when she was ill, this is what I want to do eventually as a career,” she said.

Lorraine and Sheree have lived together for more than two months. They spend many hours watching Home and Away in the living room, cooking food and visiting St Chad’s Anglican Church on Tuesdays.

“I find Sheree very easy to get along with,” Lorraine said.

“I don’t even have to ask her and she’ll get me water, or make me coffee or put my dinner on the table.”

Recently, Lorraine began helping Sheree with driving lessons. Driving for the first time can be a terrifying experience, but Lorraine provided a calm and reassuring presence in the passenger seat.

“When we got in the car, I felt Sheree was nervous. Halfway through the lesson she wanted to stop,” Lorraine recalled.

“So I said ‘no, we are going to the end of the lesson’.”

Sheree believes Lorraine’s gentle encouragement helped her overcome her nerves.

“Lorraine said we are not giving up, we are going to finish this lesson. So I stuck it out,” she said.

“It’s good to have someone like that to really push me in a positive way.”

Lorraine and Sheree have already developed a close bond and it is clear they enjoy each other’s company. Because the relationship between householder and homesharer is critical to a successful match, Wesley Mission Victoria conducts vigorous interviews and reference checks.

Lynn Burke said the matching process can be quite complex and arrangements will only proceed once both parties feel comfortable.

“People need different types of support. We look at what each person’s needs are and we assess the type of person they want to share with,” she said.

“A major thing is personality. With Sheree and Lorraine, I knew they were both quite laidback and easy-going.”

Taking on the role of a homesharer requires a certain amount of responsibility. Sheree believes only mature adults who are patient and respectful should consider the program.

“Your heart has to be in the right spot,” she said.

“You have to genuinely care for people. You have to go in there with a good attitude.”

For Lorraine and Sheree, sharing a home together has enriched both their lives, in unexpected ways.

“I feel like I can talk to Lorraine about anything. There’s no judgement in return,” Sheree said.

“She’s just easy-going and down-to-earth. If I have any problems or anything on my mind, I can just talk to her.”

Lorraine summarised her thoughts on Sheree with a few simple words.

“She’s like family. She really is.”

If you would like to become involved in the Homeshare program, contact Lynn Burke on 9794 3000.

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