Homeshare

Old ladies working in the garden
Home share logo

Homeshare Service Bringing Together Communities in Canberra

Homeshare is an exciting new programme run by Community Connections. It offers a simple but effective way of meeting people’s housing and support needs. Though new to the ACT, Homeshare is a proven method of supporting people to live independently in their community.

NDIS funding could finance your Homeshare, providing assistance with accommodation / tenancy obligations support - where support is provided to help the participant obtain or retain a home.

Mutually Empowering

Homeshare is a way of bringing together two people – both with a set of needs. The person with a disability is the householder who needs someone in the home to offer them support (usually around 10 hours per week), and the homesharer is a person without a disability who needs somewhere affordable to live.

Homeshare works on a reciprocal principle – the householder provides reduced rent / no rent accommodation in exchange for the companionship and pre specified support need provided by the homesharer.

It’s designed to be a mutually empowering arrangement with both parties being valued for the resources they exchange to meet each other’s needs.

How it Works

Homeshare is a way of bringing together two people – both with a set of needs. The person with a disability is the householder who needs someone in the home to offer them support (usually around 10 hours per week) and the homesharer is a person without disability who needs somewhere affordable to live.  

Homeshare works on a reciprocal principle – the householder provides reduced rent / no rent accommodation in exchange for the companionship and pre specified support need provided by the homesharer.

It’s designed to be a mutually empowering arrangement with both parties being valued for the resources they exchange to meet each other’s needs. 

The exact nature of the arrangement will vary according to circumstance but it’s commonly expected that the homesharer gets a private bedroom and uses shared household facilities in exchange for services such as 10 hours provision a week of agreed help, by being at home by 6.30 at least four nights per week and being there for example three weekends out of four.

Agreed help might include things like shopping, transport, meal preparation, cleaning or laundry. It does not include personal care and administering medication. Homesharers do not do the jobs of carers or paid support workers. 

Our Role

We promote the service by marketing it across the relevant sectors to find the people to be householders and sharers. We then at no cost to you, do the necessary police checks, look for compatibility and match the householders with homesharers. We establish the Homeshare agreement and provide ongoing support and monitoring throughout the period of the relationship. We will assist if need be in finding accommodation but we are not a housing agency.
Old lady with her daughter

CompanionshipSecurity & Support

Len’s Story

Rowena’s Story

Mary’s Story

Mel’s Story

Louise’s Story

Doria’s Story

Stories from Homeshare 

View of old ladies laughing
Melinda answers the door and invites us in with the cordial “excuse the mess” routine we all do. Melinda’s housemate, Mary, will be home shortly. While we wait, Melinda shares a poem she wrote this morning, shifts around the washing on the clothes rack by the glass doors, offers us a cuppa. 

The fridge is covered with notes and pictures and novelty magnets. Dishes are drying in the rack. Schedules are pinned on a corkboard. Small talk ensues. There’s a sound only Melinda hears. She yells “Hi Duckeee! Hey! I’ll get it!” How well we know the specific symphony of someone we live with coming home each day!

Mary comes in, unwrapping layers of autumnal Canberra cycling gear and heads straight for the kettle. “Sorry I’m late, I set off and forgot my helmet, so I had to ride back and get it!” Mel and Mary hover over the kitchen counter preparing cheese and bikkies and share a few domestic moments “I got these, are they the ones you like?” “Is the front door shut?” “Where is that…” “Have you had lunch?” “I got some wool today”.

Melinda (58) and Mary (53) have been living together for nine months. Over that time their relationship has naturally evolved. Mary says, “When I first moved to Canberra, I was going for bike rides to the museums and galleries on the weekend. Then as I got to know Mel, I realised she enjoyed the same things I did, so now we go together.” “And Mary is teaching me how to knit” says Mel. 

It is all frightfully normal. That is the point. However Melinda has an intellectual disability which means that some elements of this picture have been deliberately constructed. Mary and Mel have a ‘Homeshare’ arrangement.
The concept is simple. Homeshare brings together two people – both with needs and both with something to offer the other. Melinda, the ‘Householder’ has a vacant bedroom in her home, but needs help with some domestic chores. She is also looking for companionship. Mary the ‘Homesharer’ can help with domestic tasks, and needs somewhere affordable to live. She is also looking for companionship.

A Homeshare arrangement formalises the connection between the Householder and the Homesharer. Melinda agrees to provide Mary with affordable (or free) accommodation in her home, in exchange for agreed help each week.

The Homeshare arrangement is negotiated between each party, and is written as an Occupancy agreement. The support offered by the Homesharer will vary depending on the needs of the Householder, but often involves things like helping with shopping and cooking, and committing to being home a certain number of nights a week. It never includes personal care or administering medications. Homesharers are not carers, they are housemates. Mutuality and the organic development of adult housemate relationships are major benefits of Homeshare. 
The benefits of sharing a home evolve. You initially choose a housemate on the basis of a checklist, a well timed joke, a coincidence, a mysterious inkling that it will work. But you get to know a housemate through the everyday minutia of life. You come to know their habits, their moods. You learn what it means when they make popcorn and peanut-butter sandwiches at midnight. Housemates are often the first person you say good morning to, or the last person you say good night to. When you live with someone from outside your existing circle, your lives cross-pollinate. Your worlds get bigger. 
Homesharing is something that many people can, and do, arrange for themselves. There are many good on-line resources to help people set up (see www.nationalsharedhousing.org or www.homesharevermont.org). There are also services around Australia that help people set up and manage a Homeshare. 
One service in Canberra is run by Communication Connections, who established their Homeshare program in 2012. Ian Ross, Executive Director of Community Connections explains. “A Homeshare service like ours has experience in setting up and supporting Homeshare arrangements. This adds value to the matching process, and can add safeguards and problem-solving as the relationship between a Homesharer and Householder evolves. But, it’s not a ‘service’ model. It’s a way of connecting people to live together. It’s adding value to what is essentially already there and what happens naturally in people’s lives.”
Melinda has lived in a residential group home in the past. She doesn’t say much about it. Her face drops, she shakes her head and says she didn’t like it. Her three brothers bought her this two bedroom house, but it was lonely and hard to manage on her own. Melinda and her family already had a relationship with Community Connections. Their Homeshare program was just starting up around the time Melinda was looking for different housing options. She became one of the first people to join their program.

So how does a Homeshare service actually work? Lee Harrison, Coordinator for the Homeshare program explains. “To join our Homeshare service you only need two things. You must have a spare room available in your place and, most importantly, you must want to share your home with another person. Any other factors, including kind and severity of your disability, are pretty much irrelevant. We can work out solutions to everything else.” Potential Householders contact Lee, who meets them to clarify what they want out of a Homeshare and what kind of person they want to live with. Lee says “we engage the family and other key people in the conversation. For a Homeshare to go well, everyone needs to understand how it will work and what the role of a Homesharer is.” It’s useful to involve loved ones from the get go- family and close friends can help someone think through their options. However, Lee is quick to emphasise, “the householder calls the tune. It’s about what they want. Sometimes family members might think Homeshare is a really good idea but when I talk to the person it becomes clear it’s not really what they want.” At other times it is the family who are concerned. “They are worried about risks but,” Lee says, “there are risks to every relationship, and that is why you have to be careful in setting up safeguards from the beginning. You also need an unambiguous process to end it, if you discover that the person you are living with turns out to be a lazy ‘so-and-so’ or just ‘not what’s on the tin’.”

Once the Householder has clarified what they are looking for, the room is advertised on standard accommodation web-sites like Gumtree and Allhomes. 
Interested homesharers contact Lee, who does initial screening over the phone, then meets them to assess if they are a reasonable “match”. If they are, Lee sets up a meeting between the Householder and Homesharer. If they get along, they meet the family and see the house. If everyone is still keen, Lee sits down with both parties and negotiates an occupancy agreement. All Homesharers also undergo police and referee checks.

Once the Homesharer moves in, Lee checks in to see how things are going. “I don’t walk around the house with a clip board and inspect everything. I’ll be in contact maybe once a week for a while. But it completely depends on the people involved. Every Homeshare is different because everyone is different.” There are some common trends though “There is often a honeymoon period lasting about three months. Then around the three month mark there is usually some issue that rears up that needs to be worked through.” Conflicts can arise between any of the people involved in the Homeshare including parents, Householder Homesharer, tenancy managers, or other services. “There are always more people involved in a Homeshare than the housemates. It’s a learning process for everyone.” Sometimes Lee plays the role of ‘agony aunt’ or ‘UN peacekeeper’ but he is also adamant that “it’s just a process of working through human relationships. This takes time and good will, but it’s not rocket science.”

When Melinda needed a new Homesharer, Mary responded to the ad on Gumtree. Having moved from Melbourne for work, Mary knew nobody in Canberra. She stayed with friends of friends but felt like a guest. There was uncertainty about whether her new job contract would be renewed which made it difficult to commit to high private rental. Homeshare resonated with her values. Mary works for a disability advocacy organization and has an interest in alternative housing models. What better way to see how a model works than to live it? Mary and Mel are a great match.

They have small gripes like any cohabitants. The TV is close to Mel’s bedroom and Mary likes to watch TV at night. Mary took a while to get used to services coming in and out of the house. Having brought up children, Mary says she can slip into ‘mum’ mode. “If Mary starts telling me what to do,” Melinda says, “I say ‘yes mum’- I can’t help it.” They laugh. “Mel picks me up on it instantly, I can’t get away with it. It’s great.” 

Pete and Jim are also Homesharing. Jim wanted to return to Canberra to be closer to his aging parents. A relationship break-up and his adult daughter moving overseas provided added impetus to leave Queensland. A friend pointed out Pete’s ad. Jim says, “A Homeshare arrangement was certainly very convenient for someone in my situation. I also was attracted to the ethos of it. Being a disability support worker meant I was prepared for differences that maybe most people aren’t. I would have wanted to be a Homesharer anyway, but it did help in some ways.”

Like Melinda, Pete (34) had had negative experiences in residential group homes. His parents set him up in his own place but it was tough living alone. Pete registered with the Homeshare program and met Jim.

Jim (54) was initially worried that it might be hard to understand Pete’s non-verbal communication, but once he got to know him, Jim says, “Pete is easy to live with. Great bloke. I’m pretty relaxed with it.” Pete and Jim enjoy each other’s company. They have recently been apple-picking, and volunteer together at a community café.
View of father and son standing at the entrance of the house
Living with Pete has made the transition to Canberra much easier for Jim. “When you move to a new place, it’s a bit sad and lonely coming home to an empty flat. It’s really great to come home to someone.” Pete is increasingly enjoying living in his own place. Pete’s parents, John and Pauline, have noticed the difference. Jim gets on well with John and Pauline. “They are very on the ball when it comes to looking out for Pete and supporting his development. They encourage and respect his independence.”

There have been challenges. “At the very beginning, I felt drawn to work with Pete like a worker, but that didn’t last long. Pete has paid workers coming every day, and I saw he was in good hands. And I understood why it was so important that I didn’t play that role. There was also bit of confusion about the delineation of duties between me versus Pete, Pete’s carers versus me, and Pete versus carers. But we got through it.”

Community Connections has brokered 36 Homeshare matches since it started. Some of those have been long standing, with Householders and Homesharers renewing their match several times. Others have ended after a year or so. Mary is Melinda’s second housemate. Melinda got along exceptionally well with her first Homesharer, Maricel, but a whirlwind romance nine months into this Homeshare match saw Maricel move out to make a home with her new husband. However the end of the Homeshare match didn’t end their relationship- Melinda travelled with her brothers to the Philippines to be a bridesmaid at Maricel’s wedding.
View of a married couple
What makes a successful Homehare? The matching process is critical. Lee says, “You can’t rush it. It is better to take time to find a good match rather than spending time later trying to fix a bad Homeshare! You can’t cut corners.” While every Homeshare is different there are common challenges. “If things start to go pear-shaped, it’s usually because a Homesharer sees themselves in a formal care role. If that isn’t addressed, it can really undermine one of the main benefits of the program, the development of mutual natural relationships.” The matching, a formal occupancy agreement, and regularly checking in with both the Homesharer and the Householder reduce this risk, as does having a plan B.

Lee says it is also important to recognize that the relationship between housemates is not the only factor influences the success of a Homeshare. Families and other key players in a person’s life also need to be prepared to allow the Homeshare to grow. “If people stick to preconceived notions about who a Homesharer will be, or idealised notions of what outcomes will happen, then the relationship will fail. Ultimately Homeshare is just about two people getting on with their lives and supporting each other. It is important that everyone be flexible in this, and to be prepared for the relationship to develop naturally and be allowed to breathe. Each relationship will have its positives and negatives. Each Homesharer will have their own idiosyncrasies. No Homeshare match is perfect and no Homeshare can be a universal panacea.”

Homeshare may not be a panacea, but it offers a significantly better alternative to formal care for many people. Ian says, “It also makes sense when it is explained to policy-makers. It is cost-effective, it makes use of resources that already exist in our community, and it enables, both Householder and Homesharer, to achieve what we all want in our lives: a home, and a sense of connection and belonging.”
6296 1133  www.comcons.org.au      email admin@comcons.org.au
Find out more about how homesharing could benefit you and your community. Call us today on (02) 6296 1133.
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