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Loneliness And High Rent Prompt California Seniors To Look For Roommates

A growing number of California seniors are moving in together to deal with the state’s affordability crisis and the solitude that comes with the death of a spouse.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 Loneliness and financial need are driving some California seniors to move in together. Aging experts say it's more and more common as the elderly navigate the state's affordability crisis as part of our statewide collaboration covering the California dream. KPBS is Amica Sharma reports.

Speaker 2: 00:18 When you think about senior roommates, you might imagine the golden girls, I need somebody to bull is please just say yes and nobody would get hurt, but the reality is often less charmed. At 95 Eleanor's stone has outlived her husband, three children and five siblings. I'm all alone. I don't have anybody, so she decided to take a roommate into his San Diego home in 2012 68 year old rose Mickey. He I was living in my own apartment and I hadn't been able to find work and the money was just going and I knew I wasn't going to make the next month's around the two met through a San Diego Program called elder help. It matches seniors looking for roommates. There are similar organizations around the state. We get along good. Oh, you know, she does her thing and I do my thing and my cat does. Her thing. Rose likes that Elenora doesn't in her words, crowd her too much.

Speaker 2: 01:22 I am an introvert and for us we build energy by being alone. The women don't eat together. They don't talk about too much. We do talk about the cat. I tell her what the cat does. Your all of this stuff, they have different schedules. Rose rises early, eats breakfast, works until TPM and then watching something on Netflix in the afternoon. Eleanor wakes up at 8:30 AM grabs the coffee and the newspaper first I regular sports sector, they'll I wrote dear Debbie then a real jumble. Bruce Helps Eleanor with the computer and takes her to doctor's appointments, but I know I can count on her and Eleanor helps rose if I feel like interacting. There's somebody to talk to because I think if I lived alone, I may never see anybody else. You know, companionship is an important part of these partnerships. Caroline Cicero's, a gerontology professor at the University of Southern California living alone puts people at higher risk of depression, which you might expect. She says, people who live alone are also more likely to be a victim of fraud or a scam, and you're also more likely to have poor nutrition and poor health outcomes. Taking on roommates can help seniors keep a place to live. Fixed incomes aren't keeping up with California's rising rents on your de la Cruz is the associate director of elder help.

Speaker 3: 02:48 We hear a lot of times I never thought that I would be in this position and I don't know what to do. I'm scared it's looking like I might be homeless

Speaker 2: 02:56 when I ask Rose Mcgeehee if she choose this life for herself, probably not. Yeah, probably not. And for Ellen or stone, living with rose has not warded off the pain of outliving her family, but I'm still only, you know, joining me as KPBS investigative reporter Amita Sharma. I meet the welcome. Thank you. It's good to be here, Maureen. So I have some practical questions about rose and Eleanor's roommate arrangement since it's Eleanor. His house. Does rose pay rent? Yes. Rose pays Eleanor rent every month. And is that less than what you would pay for an apartment? Yes, it's a lot less than what she would pay for an apartment. And that's how she can afford to stay there. Precisely. What kind of living arrangement is it? Does rose have her own bedroom and bathroom? Yes. Rose has her own bedroom. She has her own bathroom. She's full use of the house.

Speaker 2: 03:51 Uh, the kitchen, she cooks her own food. They don't necessarily cook together, eat the same kind of food because rose is gluten free. Eleanor is not, and they share a house. Sometimes they watch TV together. Uh, most of the time they don't, but um, yeah, they, it's just as much Rose's house or she gets to use the house as much as Eleanor. Does our household responsibilities divided for instance, who does the cleaning and the gardening? They share that. Um, you know, Eleanor used to love to garden but she's 95 in and can't do what she used to do. So they bring in somebody to do the gardening. Um, they share household duties though in terms of cleaning, in speaking with the people at elder help. And that's the group that paired up rose and Eleanor. Did you find there are many of these senior roommate arrangements in San Diego?

Speaker 2: 04:44 There are no precise stats on how many seniors are living together, uh, as in roommate situations in San Diego County or across the state. But what I can tell you is that as the affordable housing crisis intensifies, these kinds of living arrangements are becoming more prevalent in Los Angeles County where overall homelessness has gone down. Um, senior homelessness has risen by 22%. So that county is now looking at pairing up seniors to live together as a guard rail as a, as a barrier, um, a stop gap prevention, uh, from seniors ending up on the streets. Does elder help provide any backup for senior roommates? Any sort of counseling or advice? They provide a lot of advice. They also provide mediation for seniors who may not be getting along who are roommates, um, and they try to explain realistically what, What this arrangement looks like and they try to pass along a conflict resolution skills.

Speaker 2: 05:53 It's obvious what rose is getting out of this situation. She's getting a very nice place to live for less than it would cost her to live somewhere else. What does Eleanor getting out of it? Eleanor gets companionship. Eleanor has outlived her children, her spouse, her siblings, and, and I think, you know, that is the other side, the other dimension to roommate situations among the elderly that yes, it's financial. It helps a lot of seniors keep roofs over their heads, make ends meet. But, but you know, a lot of seniors don't live near loved ones or don't have loved ones. They're not able to, to move around like they used to, but they crave a conversation with other human beings. And so this fills that need, fulfills this need. You talked about the positive aspects of senior roommates, like companionship, safety, et cetera. What are the downsides?

Speaker 2: 06:50 Well, it's not easy to live with another human being, especially someone who's a stranger. You know, especially when you may have had your own home, raised her own family, lived with a spouse, and now suddenly you're forced to live. If you have financial needs, you're forced to live in this kind of arrangement. And you don't know this person. You don't know what their likes and dislikes are. You don't know. Maybe they have some personality quirks. Maybe you do too. Maybe you're somebody who needs a lot of space, but yet you're, again, you're forced to live in this kind of arrangement. It can be extremely tough. And then there's that aspect of, you know, feeling like you're dependent. What if you brought somebody into your home because you know, you need someone to help you with transportation. You need somebody to take you to the doctor.

Speaker 2: 07:38 You, uh, you need somebody to explain the computer for you. It's not something that you would have chosen for yourself. You would have preferred that a child was doing this or a spouse was doing this. You know, emotionally, there's that reminder that, oh, I'm having to rely on a stranger to do this and not a loved one. So it's, it's extremely hard. But I, you know, it's not hard for everyone. There are people who get on like a house on fire there. I, um, one of the women whom I interviewed on your Dilla Cruise, I think she's the associate executive director at ElderHelp. She told me that their longest pairings so far has been 15 years. And these two people have become family and their families, no one another, they celebrate the holidays together. You know, they, they talk all the time. They watch movies and watch TV together.

Speaker 2: 08:28 They turned to each other, they play games together. So it's, it can, it can turn out really well like the show golden girls, you know, that ran, I think back in the 80s, it can turn out perfectly. And then for some is just, no, you live amicably with another human being. You understand, you've come to this point in life where you must do this. Um, but it's not necessarily by choice. So when it works well, it's really, really helpful for both parties. I'm wondering, is the state getting involved in supporting this kind of housing option for seniors? This is an idea that's being thrown out there a lot. And um, especially in Los Angeles county where again, they're trying to reduce homelessness among seniors. I've heard people here in San Diego discuss it as an option as well, because there's very little affordable housing for seniors and so many people, for whatever reason, whether you know they've lost a spouse, they have had a medical challenge and, and they've spent their life savings on that. Um, and, and they don't have any kind of buffer when the rent goes up and, and they either are going to become homeless or somebody will take them in. And that doesn't happen. If somebody won't take them in, then what other choice do they have but to move in with somebody else. And so this is a way that, that government officials are looking to prevent homelessness and, and get seniors off the street. I've been speaking with KPBS investigative reporter and Meetha Sherman [inaudible]. Thank you. Thank you. Maureen.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.