Shared Housing of New Orleans

PO Box 15316
New Orleans, Louisiana 70175

504-896-2575

Times-Picayune Thursday, July 5, 2007

Putting one and one together

In 1988, Marion Strauss came up with a beautiful idea. She called it Shared Housing of New Orleans.

"It just hurt me to see people end up in nursing homes when they could still be in their own houses," she said.

Marion was working as an occupational therapist at Charity Hospital, and she kept seeing two kinds of people who needed help: people who were going into nursing homes simply because they could no longer live alone, and people who were homeless or in danger of becoming homeless after losing a spouse, perhaps, or a job.

So she began her program to bring them together. The home seeker would fix meals, do chores and provide companionship to the homeowner in exchange for room and board.

"When I started it, I did everything myself, so I learned it from the ground up," she said.

Wonderful matches

Each situation was different, and she learned what it took to make a successful match.

"The people had to like each other," she said.

She did background checks and trial overnight stays and had participants sign a contract that spelled out what was expected of each of them.

She poured her heart and money into the program. She set it up as a nonprofit, applied for grants, and hired registered nurses to screen applicants and serve as case managers.

"Every nurse who ever worked for us said they loved their job," Marion said.

They matched elderly people and people with disabilities to students, widows and, once, to a woman who lost her house to a fire.

"We had many wonderful matches and kept one gentleman out of a nursing home for eight years," she said.

In 2005, the program was thriving. Then came the hurricane, which shut down Charity Hospital and scattered Marion's small staff around the country. She was out of her house for nearly a year.

"But when I came back in August, I just couldn't give up," she said.

Keeping it going

As soon as she was back in New Orleans, Marion started applying for grants.

"So many people were without homes I needed to get back in business," she said.

Now, she's renting an office on Laurel Street and paying for it with a $5,000 grant.

"When that money's gone, I'll pay the rent myself," she said.

Marion, who takes no salary as director of Shared Housing, works full time as an occupational therapist at the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital.

She has hired three nurses to screen referrals. What she needs now is homeowners in the New Orleans area looking for someone to stay with them and people in need of a place to stay.

Copyright 2013 Shared Housing of New Orleans. All rights reserved.

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