January 22, 1995|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Special to The Sun

Giju Mattamana needed a home, not just an apartment, where he wouldn't feel so lonesome. Bud Meyers needed a companion, not just a hired hand, to help him take care of his Baltimore rowhouse, where he had lived with his mother until her death in May.

With the assistance of a home-sharing program coordinated by St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore, Mr. Mattamana met Mr. Meyers in September. The two clicked. First they were housemates. Now they are friends.

The St. Ambrose Homesharing Program is a nonprofit service that helps match home seekers with home providers -- one of 13 such programs in the state and 350 in the country, according to Margaret L. Harmon, executive director of the National Shared Housing Resource Center (NSHRC), a national advocacy group which moved to Baltimore last fall.

"Shared housing programs and the nonrelated families they serve are preventing privacy and freedom from becoming loneliness and isolation," Ms. Harmon said.

She says home-sharing preserves neighborhoods and allows many older people to avoid nursing homes. Home-sharing also costs less than renting: typically, from $100 to $300 a month instead of $250 to $500 a month apartment renters in Baltimore pay.

Ms. Harmon says interest in home-sharing is rising, though she could cite no statistics. She notes many more inquiries to the NSHRC office now than in previous years and many more invitations for her to speak at seminars and conventions.

Many organizations support group-share homes, where several people live together in a single large house.

Jewish Family Services in Baltimore, for example, offers referrals to group-share homes, in which several unrelated people live together, sometimes without the owner living there.

But more people want help finding one housemate than a houseful, so St. Ambrose focuses on matching seekers with owners.

In its program, a staff of three home-sharing counselors takes applications from people looking for homes in Baltimore and people willing to share. Counselors interview the applicants and check their backgrounds.

St. Ambrose does not accept anyone with a history of drug or alcohol abuse unless they can show they have been clean for at least a year.

Once the counselor has visited the provider's home to make sure it is suitable for sharing, she suggests potential matches to both parties. Both talk or meet if they desire. If the match seems comfortable, they may arrange for a two-week tryout, with the counselor standing by if necessary to help ease conflicts. Tryouts frequently turn into matches that can last years.

For its trouble, St. Ambrose charges a $5 nonrefundable fee from home seekers and a $15 nonrefundable fee from home providers. A $15 match fee is also paid by each individual if two people move in together.

St. Ambrose's home-sharing program has made 320 matches in its six years of operation. Anna Maria Kihn, a home-sharing counselor with the group, says matches have been made between all ages and races and between men and women. Most are 30 to 50 years old and are often in transition: they have been recently widowed, divorced or moved.

"There is no typical match," Ms. Kihn said. "We don't try to fit anybody into a mold."

Indeed, Mr. Mattamana and Mr. Meyers are an unlikely couple to share a home.

Mr. Mattamana, 25 and a native of India, is 6 feet tall, looks as though he could hoist a piano without effort, and speaks rapidly. He works as a nursing assistant at Levindale Geriatric Center in Northwest Baltimore.

Mr. Meyers, 45, is a Baltimore native, pale and slight, on disability payments and temporarily confined to a wheelchair. He has precise speech and a gentle manner.

Mr. Mattamana pays Mr. Meyers $200 a month for rent. In return he has his own room and the run of Bud's three-bedroom house in Waverly. The two share household chores, cooking, food and conversation.

"I clean downstairs, he does upstairs. If he cooks, he cooks for me. If I cook, I cook for him. His food is mine and mine is his," explained Mr. Meyers.

Mr. Mattamana says he doesn't hesitate to ask Mr. Meyers for help with English and confusing American customs.

"I hear all the time people say, 'Don't tell me what to do,' " Mr. Mattamana said. "But I want to know what to do. I ask strange things: 'What does that word mean? Please tell me.' "

Mr. Mattamana and Bud have resolved to stay together for the next three years, at least. "If I decide to move, we'll move together," Mr. Meyers said.

Other homeowners who have gone through a matchup program find their housemates so helpful, they become part of the family.

Sandra Cryder of Baltimore, for instance, made sure her housemate Katy Giebenhain, a graduate student from the University of Baltimore, came with her when she had to move. The two had only lived together a few months when Ms. Cryder moved her family to a new neighborhood. But a few months was all it took for the two women to come to depend on each other.

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