At 97, David is in pretty remarkable health. He still gets out and about to see his grandkids and even does a bit of work from time to time. Most importantly, David still lives in his home of 53-years near Dundrum in Dublin.
“It’s convenient,” says David over a black coffee in his kitchen one Friday afternoon.
Like so many Irish men and women of his generation, David wants to stay in his home but age makes it difficult to live completely independently for many. Family and nurses can check in on David during the day but there are still risks, especially at night.
A couple years ago David’s children connected with Saoirse Sheridan for what’s turned into a remarkable solution.
Sheridan moved into David’s large suburban home. David got a roommate and a friend, and his family got peace of mind. Sheridan also got a place to stay for below average rent.
“Saved my ass. Saved my life,” says Sheridan. “[I] moved 10 times in 18 months.”
Since then, Sheridan founded a business connecting older people living alone with younger homeshare companions. Through Elderhomeshare, Sheridan has made 30 connections so far.
Until recently, the system has been entirely offline. Sheridan is currently in the process of building out an online system to reach more people around the country.
The homeshare companions are NOT live-in carers, nor are they simply roommates. They only pay €150 a month for their rent, but the expectation is that they’d be around to provide some companionship and an added layer of safety for the homeowner.
Sheridan says so many older people in Ireland are simply lonely and having a younger person around the house can do wonders.
“Sharing a meal and sharing a conversation, that’s where the magic is,” Sheridan adds.
Elderhomeshare charges the homeowners and their family an annual fee for the service. Unlike other businesses in the “sharing economy,” the real goal for the homeowners is not make a profit off their extra rooms. It’s the security of having someone around and the companionship that goes with that.
Sheridan helps keep the house clean, mows David’s lawn and the pair have dinner together every night too.
“She’s looking after me like a baby,” David says affectionately.
There may be a good reason why Sheridan is so good at connecting people. She used to be a romantic matchmaker, organising social events for singles.
“This is much easier,” says Sheridan. “It’s friendship-based so we’re not so critical [of other people].”
In her experience, singles dwell on who their potential dates could be, rather than who they are.
Sheridan says connecting an elderly homeowner and a homeshare companion is more about finding trustworthy people who share common interests.
“A bit of cupid’s arrow” she says.
There’s Mary in her 80’s and Anna in her 30’s who both like to paint. The pair go to museums together.
David and Sheridan have a lot in common too – they both like their coffee black, neither like butter, they’re both left handed, and they’re both only children.
It’s the little things that make the biggest difference
Why does this matter?
Elderhomeshare is filling a critical need in the country. Ireland’s population is getting older, with the over 65 population increasing by almost 20% in the 2016 census. The challenges are even greater in rural counties.
Services like Sheridan’s help the older population remain in their home where it’s possible. It also solves the problem of loneliness, which the Society of St. Vincent de Paul says is the biggest individual problem older people face.
It’s also helping with the affordable housing shortage seen in so many parts of the country. There aren’t many places to find rent for €150 a month, especially in County Dublin.
Talking to Sheridan today, it’s clear she understands the challenges facing both older and younger people in Ireland.
At first, Sheridan thought her customer was the homeowner. She learned it was actually the homeowner’s adult children, a major reason why she’s turning to an online platform.
After connecting several dozen people, Sheridan also learned the typical homeowner interested in this kind of arrangement is older than she expected. Rather than a person in their 70’s, most are in their 80’s and 90’s.
The homeshare companions can come from more diverse backgrounds. Some may be students. Others are professionals. What matters is that they are trustworthy and reliable.
Sheridan says almost all of the companions she’s placed have been women. Families of older women feel more secure having a woman in the house instead of a man. As for the older gents, for SOME reason they prefer to live with young women too.
As for Sheridan, she used to live with her grandmother, so the arrangement with David fulfils something she desired. Sheridan regularly talks with David’s family. In a way, she’s almost become another daughter.
“We’re a very happy family,” says David.
As Ireland develops solutions to tackle housing and elderly loneliness, it’s clear programmes like Sheridan’s could play an important part with a light level of support that benefits two strangers by bringing them together.
For David’s privacy, we withheld his family name.