The Homeshare International World Congress in Melbourne, Australia, brings forth years of living experience elderly people and youngsters have shared.
Some weeks ago I met Isabel, an 84 year old Spanish woman who used to live with her little dog. She told me that she went to England to work as a nurse when she was very Young. For medical reasons she wasn’t able to have children and has since lived alone, until she got in touch with NGO SOLIDARIOS para el Desarrollo to participate in the program Convive since she doesn’t like spending the nights alone in her house.
They put her in contact with Agustín, a medicine student who used to be a university professor in Cuba. He stayed in Europe for political reasons after a trip to Denmark and Norway for a Congress. He became a gymnastics teacher in Madrid, Spain, until he realized he couldn’t afford living costs there. That’s when he decided to embark upon a medicine degree, but he couldn’t afford tuition either along with the rest of expenses for living as a university student. One of his colleagues talked to him about Convive, which could give him a home without having to pay a rent and just sharing living costs: food, electricity, water, telephone and the Internet. Isabel and Agustín, like more than 70 ‘matches’, keep themselves Company everyday thanks to Convive.
These stories come to my mind at the verge of representing SOLIDARIOS at the World Congress that Homeshare International (HI) puts together in Melbourne, Australia.
HI groups organizations, programs and initiatives that match people with the need to find affordable living with people who offer a living space for possible home sharing. The formulas vary depending on the legislation of each country and its specific cultural traits.
These congresses, organized each two years, open the possibility of debating on the need to count on evaluation and research to measure the impact that programs like Convive have both on the elderly who lived alone and the university students that moved into a new home. This enables evidence for the value of these programs as a response to problems related to population ageing and the social isolation of many elderly people. But also as an integrating response for students, many of whom, like Agustín, come from other countries or cities far away.
Only demonstrated experience and results obtained from efficient research could lead to a greater support for these initiatives at a global level as a useful tool for public policies geared to the elderly people.
The Congress also offers the possibility of sharing 20 years of experience by Convive and the implications of the agreement that was recently signed with Madrid’s local government. Madrid’s public services channels the cases of elderly people, with a certain degree of autonomy, living alone and under adequate conditions to share a home with a university student. On the other hand we have the collaboration of seven universities in Madrid that belong to the program and that inform students and offer them the possibility of entering a cross-generational program. The coordinator of the program interviews both the elderly person and the student to aim for the most compatible ‘match’ there is possible, which implies a great degree of responsibility on the organization’s side.
For the Congress, it could be interesting to count on the exposition of the Spanish context, where the fastest-ageing population in the world lives, along with Japan. Other countries follow the same trend and have the same challenges in front regarding retirement and the attention for the elderly.
This experience in Australia can propel the consolidation of a National Network of Homeshare programs in Spain, which Solidarios launched in 2013 along with 16 programs in other cities. Convive is the second largest program in Spain when it comes to number of managed matches each year, with about 70, and has contributed to the success of these programs since 1995, when the first ‘matches’ were made between elderly people living alone in their homes and students enrolled at the Complutense University of Madrid, where Solidarios was born.
We will make good use of the trip to share the experience of Convive, to explain the reasons for its success, its lessons and our recommendations along with those of other cross generational programs from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany and Japan. Apart from organizations and groups dedicated to matching people, the Congress brings together legislators and researchers to share ideas, learn one from the other and to create new networks.
Carlos Miguélez Monroy
Journalist. Communications Officer at SOLIDARIOS para el Desarrollo and editor at the Centro de Colaboraciones Solidarias