By Mallory Lowes, Social Connectedness Fellow 2019
Imagine you had the opportunity to gain valuable life skills, develop meaningful friendships and pay a reduced amount for quality accommodation – all while benefiting the greater community. Would you pursue it?
Let me introduce you to HomeShare, the ever-evolving concept of matching young adults or post-secondary students with older adults in their respective communities to live with one another. The living situation is a direct exchange of services: the young adult or student pays a reduced rental fee, in turn for the commitment of a few volunteer hours to assist the older homeowner with basic daily tasks. For instance, light cleaning, yard work, running errands or cooking. An older homeowner is able to receive reliable help, while a student is able to maintain a flexible schedule and lower their monthly expenses.
HomeShare is not necessarily a new initiative. There have been programs established in Canada for over 20 years, and it exists in 16 different countries across the world, such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Korea. Although a prevalent concept, awareness, opportunities and participation among Canadians is sparse. HomeShare programs are more dominant in Eastern Canada, and the most populous city in the country, Toronto, is just introducing a HomeShare pilot project in September 2019.
Why should HomeShare become more widespread, you ask? Beyond alleviating rising housing costs for students and encouraging the safe practice of daily tasks for older adults and seniors, HomeSharing addresses one of the most prominent, pervasive health problems existent today: social isolation. 
Social isolation can lead to a variety of mental and physical health issues, such as depression, malnutrition, decreased immunity, anxiety and fatigue, among others.  Seniors have an enhanced risk of becoming socially isolated, which is not entirely shocking. Living alone, dealing with health and mobility issues, experiencing the loss of loved ones and struggling financially are all key contributors to the manifestation of social isolation.  Among older Canadians, those who are immigrants, those who identify as an ethnic minority group and those who are low-income are especially at risk of experiencing social isolation as a result of language barriers, lack of literacy and discrimination.  Furthermore, the population of people aged 65+ is currently the most rapidly growing population group in Canada, outnumbering the age group of 0-14 for the first time in history.  Therefore, it is crucial that the needs of older adults are being addressed, in order to attend to the wellbeing of the fastest growing portion of the Canadian population.
Action is being taken through various initiatives both nationally and internationally to incorporate the needs of older Canadians into programming and policy. Conveniently, HomeSharing can be used as a tool to foster many of these initiatives. For instance, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Age-Friendly Cities Project highlights the need for cities to support older people to “age actively,” meaning living in security, enjoying good health and continuing to participate fully in society.
In addition, the National Seniors Strategy consists of four main pillars in supporting older Canadians: 1) Independent, productive and engaged citizens; 2) Healthy and active living; 3) Care closer to home; and 4) Support for caregivers. HomeSharing has the capacity to practice the WHO’s “active aging” and the four pillars of the National Seniors Strategy through creating a secure, independent, healthy and engaged environment, and through the live-in presence of not only an assistive roommate, but a potential friend.
However, HomeShare is not purely socially beneficial for the older homeowners. Youth aged 16-24 are reported to be the loneliest age group of all.  Thus, HomeSharing is not solely attending to the need for social connection among older adults, but to younger adults as well. The intergenerational, daily interaction is exactly what the doctor may have ordered for both age groups.
Despite the bountiful benefits, it is impossible for any program to be perfect. There lies the possibility of being matched with an individual who has severely different interests or a conflicting personality. There also lies the chance that the volunteer aspect could be abused – whether the home-seeker does not fulfill their designated duties, or the homeowner expects too much of the home-seeker. Thankfully, HomeShare is facilitated by experienced social workers and other professionals who are there to ensure that everything is going smoothly, and to solve any uncertainties.
The beauty of this model is that it has the opportunity to be expanded further, beyond the student-senior relationship. Using the development techniques of HomeShare, initiatives could be created to involve the matching of people from all walks of life, not necessarily from particular age groups. For example, recent empty-nester parents tend to have extra space in their homes. Could HomeSharing not be a possibility for them as well?
In order for this socially connected, community-based model to grow, it requires participants and changemakers who are welcome to new possibilities. I encourage you to consider how the concept of HomeShare can be creatively integrated into your own community – either through the current program, or through new initiatives. To check out what is already being done, please head to https://www.homesharecanada.org/ to learn more.
 HM Government. A Connected Society: A Strategy for Tackling Loneliness – Laying the Foundations for Change. London, UK: Crown, 2018. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/ file/750909/6.4882_DCMS_Loneliness_Strategy_web_Update.pdf
 Keefe, Janice, Melissa Andrew, Pamela Fancey, and Madelyn Hall. A Profile of Social Isolation in Canada. Report. Department of Family Studies and Gerontology, Mount Saint Vincent University. Halifax, NS: Centre on Aging Nova Scotia, 2006. 1-35. https://www.health.gov.bc.ca/library/publications/year/2006/keefe_social_isolation_final_report_may_2006.pdf.
 Sibley, Jessica, Heather Thompson, and Joey Edwardh. Seniors: Loneliness and Social Isolation. Report. Community Development Halton. Burlington, ON: Community Development Halton, 2016. 1-24. https://cdhalton.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Seniors-Loneliness-and-Social-Isolation.pdf
Hammond, Claudia. “The Anatomy of Loneliness – Who Feels Lonely? The Results of the World’s Largest Loneliness Study.” BBC Radio 4. 2018. Accessed July 23, 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2yzhfv4DvqVp5nZyxBD8G23/who-feels-lonely-the-results-of-the-world-s-largest-loneliness-study.