Homesharing links up people with a disability to people looking for a room
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Homesharing links up people with a disability to people looking for a room

In the sometimes torturous world of housemate finding, Melinda Ross has found success, twice.

She lived with one woman for a few months and they became so close she was a bridesmaid at her wedding in the Philippines. Her second housemate is a year-and-a-half in and going strong.

Mary Mallett, left, and Melinda Ross who live together in a share house.

Mary Mallett, left, and Melinda Ross who live together in a share house.Credit:Jamila Toderas

It is a happy turnaround for Ms Ross, who nearly couldn't live in the North Lyneham house her family own. The 60-year-old Canberran has an intellectual disability and before she found a flatmate, lived in a group home.

She doesn't like to talk much about what she calls a loss of independence, where "you have to eat the same things, do the same things and live with people".

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The people Ms Ross lives with now are only ones she has chosen.

Which is where Community Connections comes in. The organisation links up householders who have a disability with people looking for somewhere to live, mostly by posting ads on Gumtree.

Mary Mallett, 55, moved to Canberra after 30 years in Tasmania. Irish-born into a big family, she arrived in the capital with a realisation she had never lived alone – and didn't want to.

She has agreed to a contractual arrangement of 10 hours per week helping Ms Ross and sharing meals in exchange for living rent free. Other arrangements might have the homesharer pay discounted rent for different responsibilities.

"One of the important things . . . the power in the relationship really is with Mel," Ms Mallett said.

"A lot of people with a disability live in a very unequal [place], their whole lives are lived where other people direct and dictate what they do, so it's actually quite nice that homeshare gives the power to person."

Community Connections has made 41 "matches" since starting work in 2013.

The growing homesharing movement is something Ms Mallett predicts will get more popular, once the National Disability Insurance Agency "cottons on" to its value.

While the disability insurance scheme funds Ms Ross' carers, who come several times a week to help her cook and shop, it is Ms Mallett who provides companionship at other times and negates the need for overnight carers.

"It's just sharing," Ms Ross said. "You support me but not in every way. We share the house."

Lee Harrison, the group's homeshare manager, stressed how the arrangement was a "meeting of equals".

Significantly, the ACT allows homesharing in up to 10 of its government houses each year, and the householder's rent does not increase when a homesharer moves in.

Of the 13 matches Community Connections made last year, four were in government houses and nine in privately-owned homes. Two of the organisation's three longest lasting matches are in the former.

"The big thing is, it gives the opportunity for everybody to take part," Mr Harrison said. "[Rather than] if you don't have your own home, you're out."

While Ms Mallett works in the sector as CEO of Disability Advocacy Network Australia, she said that there is a range of people who could be a homesharer, because it's about "matching" with each householder.

One half of another Community Connections match, for example, is a legal professional saving for a home of her own.

Last month Ms Ross and Ms Mallett travelled to Melbourne as an ACT success story, when the 4th Homeshare World Congress was hosted outside Europe for the first time.

Alexandra Back is a reporter with The Canberra Times

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