Shared Housing of New Orleans

PO Box 15316
New Orleans, Louisiana 70175

504-896-2575

Times-Picayune Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Step Up - Companionship option for those needing help

Jane Pic Adams

When someone becomes unable to cope with living alone, the choices include leaving familiar surroundings and moving into an assisted living facility or nursing home. These difficult choices often involve family members who are unable to have the person move into their home. Sometimes assisted living or a nursing home is chosen because the person has no family.

One answer is Shared Housing, the idea of Marion Strauss, an occupational therapist who has witnessed these scenarios time and again while working in the psychiatry department of a local hospital. Most of the people admitted to the department had situational depression symptoms, such as not eating properly or sleeping well, being unable to keep their home clean or experiencing extreme loneliness.

These symptoms usually were preceded by events such as the death of a spouse, a stroke, loss of vision, an amputation or the onset of severe arthritis. Strauss also identified a group of people experiencing situational depression because of loss of employment, loss of living quarters, being unable to support oneself financially or being on the verge of homelessness.

Strauss felt it was logical to try to match these individuals with people who could help without exchanging money. For example, a homeowner in need could provide room and board to someone who could provide light housekeeping and companionship.

If there are continuing medical problems, home health assists in meeting the homeowner's personal needs.

A proper match is ensured through very careful prescreening. Safeguards are built into the match. The homeowner must be able to negotiate for himself or herself and must retain control over decisions. Individuals who have turned over legal authority to another are not eligible.

Applicants are interviewed and evaluated by the Shared Housing program coordinator and registered nurses. Police checks are conducted along with a "trial stay" in the home.

If all works out, a contract is written for both parties to sign, signifying the responsibility of each, including room and board provided by the homeowner, companionship and light housekeeping  by the homeseeker. Contracts are renewed at six-month intervals. The average match lasts about one and a half years.

One of the most successful matches occurred when a young biomedical engineering student from India arrived to study at a local university and found that a grant he had counted on for expenses was not going to be awarded. Shared Housing matched him with an older man who had suffered a stroke and needed companionship.

The student's grandfather in India had just suffered a stroke, and the family could not afford to send the student extra money. This was a perfect match. The student lived in a nice home, attended classes and provided conversation, companionship and respect for the gentleman who reminded him of his grandfather.

For information about Shared Housing contact Strauss at 504.896.2575 or visit www.sharedhousingofneworleans.org on the Web.

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