Your senior roommate

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Housemates Monica and Meryl often start their Saturdays by making breakfast together, but they aren’t the typical college matchup.

Junior Monica Beers lives with 75-year-old Meryl Caldwell in her downtown Burlington home as part of HomeShare Vermont, an organization that matches volunteers searching for affordable housing with elderly or disabled members of the community who want to remain living at home.

“Homesharing is an old fashioned bartering arrangement where someone with a spare room in their home needs a little help, such as companionship, help with meals or simply a protective presence in the home,” according to the website.

After eating breakfast, Beers and Caldwell separate and run errands or do any other activities they have planned for the day. 

“There are three levels for homesharing,” Beers said. “The first one is if you want to live there for free – you do 10 hours of service for your housemate each week.”

Although living with some residents requires training, others only require doing cleaning, cooking or caring for pets, Beers said.

“Then there’s a middle group where you pay $200 a month and do five hours of service,” she said. “I don’t do any service and pay $400 a month.” 

Although Beers said she prefers to live in a quieter environment, she sometimes has friends over to play Caldwell in pingpong after they have both returned home. 

For students who prefer a calmer housing situation where they can focus on their studies, HomeShare can be a better and cheaper alternative than living in the dorms or in an apartment junior and senior years, Anne Cooch, a HomeShare member, said.

“We have had great luck with some wonderful UVM students in homesharing – many from social work, nursing and grad programs, but from other areas of study, too,” Cooch said. “We recently added a link to our program on UVM’s off-campus housing website, as well.”

Cooch said that the only setback to homesharing is the lengthy process required to get someone matched. It can take several weeks to several months to find a good pairing. 

After the preliminary application steps, HomeShare introduces potential matches and gives them the opportunity to do a trial match, which is a two-week period where the people see if living together will work out long-term.

“We write up an agreement, similar to a lease, that lists what is expected from both parties,” Cooch said. “If at any point during this trial, one or both parties do not think it will work, then the trial ends, and we continue searching for housing.”

If things seem to be working out by the end of the trial period, the match is finalized by signing an agreement. 

“We will continue to check in periodically to make sure everything is going smoothly,” Cooch said.

Beers and Caldwell eat dinner separately, but when Beers is in the kitchen cooking, Caldwell sits and talks to her about her day, just as any housemates would.

“It’s definitely a friendship,” Beers said. “Sometimes it does feel like she’s my grandma.” 

Previously, Caldwell lived with high school students, which forced her to play more of a mother role, but Beers said it was easier for Caldwell to live with an independent college student like herself.

“At first it was kind of awkward to say, ‘I’m going to leave and I might not come back,’ or ‘I might come back at three in the morning’ and her having to accept that and not tell me I can’t go,” Beer said.

To finish off their day together the two like to watch “Jeopardy,” a favorite show of Caldwell’s, and yell out the answers they know at the same time.

“HomeShare is great because it is super cheap,” Beers said. “I live in a really nice house with a hot tub, pingpong table, full kitchen, and all utilities are included.”

Beers said that for the price, it’s an awesome place that just can’t be found in the Burlington market.

“Plus, whenever I’ve had a bad day or it’s an exam week, Meryl makes me cookies and we talk about silly things,” she said. “She’s a really great housemate.”

Cooch agrees and says Homesharing is a great living arrangement where both parties can benefit from participating.

“In many cases, Homesharing becomes so much more than just a living arrangement that enables two people to meet their needs,” Cooch said. 

“Many of our homesharers find wonderful friends and companions in the people that they are living with, and a great deal of satisfaction from the knowledge that they are helping someone.”