Independence doesn't mean people cannot live together

January 22, 1995

Being independent is good, but being lonely isn't, says Margaret L. Harmon, who heads the National Shared Housing Resource Center (NSHRC) in Baltimore.

"We're so focused on independence," Ms. Harmon said. "The problem is, when we stress the notion of independence, particularly older people feel they have failed if they can't make it on their own."

Ms. Harmon says many problems associated with growing old -- poor eating habits, lack of personal care and depression -- come from being alone and lonely. She prefers the notion of interde

pendence, where individuals keep their privacy and freedoms, but share living space and can get help if they need it.

NSHRC advocates shared housing among non-related people of all ages to develop interdependence. Established in 1981 by Gray Panther activist Maggie Kuhn, who now serves as honorary chairwoman, NSHRC is a clearinghouse for home-sharing programs around the country. The programs match home seekers with home providers and help individuals find group-shared housing -- in which several people rent a house together and the owner may not live with them.

While the NSHRC doesn't make matchups, it offers referrals to people who call for help.

"There are about 350 home-sharing programs around the country. That's not enough," Ms. Harmon said. "We need shared housing in every community."

California has about 60 programs. Nine states have no programs at all. Maryland has five matchup programs and eight group-shared residence programs.

Not just the elderly want shared housing, Ms. Harmon says. An article in the August 1994 issue of New Woman magazine about matchup programs led to about 300 calls to NSHRC. Most of the calls came from young women, she says.

"It's still an unknown concept. But our ultimate goal is to make shared housing available to anyone who wants it."

The center moved from Burlington, Vt., to Baltimore in July 1994 to be closer to Washington, so as to have a greater impact on national policy decisions that affect the elderly.

"We were approached by larger 'aging' organizations that represent older people," who wanted to bring the center into their very large folds, Ms. Harmon said. "But it made sense for us not to identify ourselves with an organization that represents just older people."

Instead, she said NSHRC chose to move to Baltimore where St. '' Ambrose Housing Aid Center has a successful six-year home-sharing program. NSHRC remains small and independent -- Ms. Harmon might say interdependent: It shares office space with St. Ambrose on 25th Street.

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