Dorothy Rusoff, 79, has relied on video calls to stay in touch with her friends during the pandemic – but sometimes still finds herself stranded by her laptop.
Fortunately, her new roommate, Maggie Meier, 23, is now here to help.
“He’s a genius !” Rusoff said, laughing.
“I think it’s going well. I think we’ve resolved the grievances with the technology so far,” added Meier, a student at Ryerson University.
The two met through a program called Canada Homeshare, which matches seniors who have more space in their homes with students in need of affordable rent.
In the years since its launch as a pilot project in Toronto in 2018, the program has expanded to Vancouver, Peel Region and Kingston, with other locations in Ontario such as Barrie, Oshawa and Peterborough, in preparation.
“The response is overwhelming,” said Dr Raza Mirza, network manager of the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly, which created the program. “This highlights to us that there really is an unmet need in our community.”
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Seniors “desperately” want to stay in their own space
Mirza says the idea isn’t just about giving students a financial break or providing a new source of income for the elderly.
“We are heading towards a real fight against isolation and loneliness thanks to this program,” he said.
Rochelle McAlister manages mental health and addictions programs for seniors at WoodGreen Community Services in Toronto.
McAlister, who is not affiliated with Canada HomeShare, said that in his experience, seniors “desperately” want to stay in their own space, but sometimes lack the support to do so.
“We know older people are constantly dealing with isolation issues and especially in the pandemic it’s become pretty catastrophic,” McAlister said.
“We have a huge goal of keeping people living independently in their homes for as long as possible,” she said, explaining that Canada HomeShare and other programs like this can help.
“It’s like we’re roommates”
This was the situation Rusoff found himself in.
“I was really looking for someone else to be in the house. My husband passed away several years ago,” she said. “And people said, ‘You should move on.’ But I was like, ‘Where am I going to move? Because I love my home.’ ”
After reading the program in the newspaper, Rusoff felt it was the right fit for her – and eventually became associated with Meier, who was looking for a place to live.
“My mother was helping [with] my research. She found this program and was so excited that she said, “Maggie, this is what you need! Said Meier.
As part of their deal, Meier also pledged to tour the house for seven hours a week. This is where troubleshooting on the laptop comes in.
“What is most important to me is the computer. The computer and the garbage!” said Rusoff.
For her part, Meier says she entered into the “really horny” arrangement for the company of living with a roommate and was not disappointed.
“I didn’t really know how I was going to help Dorothy… I could tell she was incredibly independent,” Meier said.
“I feel like in our case it’s like we’re roommates, not like I’m supporting someone.”