Two local senior citizens organizations are seeking volunteers and participants for a program that can benefit elderly or disabled homeowners, and students or low-income residents who need affordable housing.
The program, Housing Options Made Easier aims to match up area homeowners and homeseekers.
"We've been meeting for a year to talk about the issues of older residents and the issue of housing kept coming up," said Betty Dutton, member of the Kaw Valley chapter of the Older Women's League.
The local OWL chapter and Douglas County Senior Services are co-sponsoring the HOME program.
Sandra Strand, community services director of senior services, said the local program is modeled after a program in Kansas City, Mo., which has matched more than 100 homeowners with homeseekers.
"A LOT OF older people need help with maintaining their homes or running errands," Strand said. "This program will allow many elderly people to have someone else do those little things that need to be done, and they can remain living in their home."
Strand and Dutton say the HOME program could help many elderly residents who are unable to mow their yards, shovel snow, change light bulbs or maintain other areas of their homes.
Through the program, a college student or low-income resident would be matched up with an elderly or disabled person. In exchange for paying little or no rent while living in the elderly person's home, the homeseeker would do house maintenance and run errands for the homeowner.
"There are all kinds of possibilities in the agreement that the homeowner and homeseeker could establish," depending on the needs of both parties, Strand said.
SPONSORS say the program could improve the standard of living and provide companionship and security for both parties.
HOME also could help older residents stay in the community and prevent premature institutionalization.
"Right now, institutionalized care is eating up the state budget," Strand said. "Another advantage of this program is that it can save tax dollars."
Sponsors say HOME will be conducted in several phases. Interested parties will fill out program applications and detailed needs questionnaires, which will be reviewed by senior services and OWL volunteers.
Applicants then will be interviewed, and personal references will be checked.
"EVEN IN our own group, people are fearful of having someone else come into their home," said Margaret Gordon, OWL member.
"Many elderly people feel vulnerable, because there are people out there who will try to take advantage of them," Strand said.
Following the application and interviewing process, HOME participants will meet each other and decide between themselves if the arrangement will work. If so, a written contract would be written between both parties, with the help of OWL and senior services representatives.
Sara Shull, a Kansas University senior and social work intern at the senior center, said the process for matching up homeowners and homeseekers would take three weeks to several months.
"It just depends on what the homeowner is looking for and who could fulfill those needs," she said. "If we were to find a perfect match, it might only take two weeks."
"But," Strand said, "This is not an emergency housing program and it could take some time."
SPONSORS also said the HOME program was not limited to living arrangments.
"There are a lot of older people who are simply looking for someone to help them with the chores around the house, but do not require that someone be there all the time," Strand said. "This program could also benefit those people."
Sponsors said they weren't sure how many area residents could benefit from the HOME. Dutton said more than 7,500 older residents live in Douglas County.
Anyone wanting more information about program may call senior services, 842-0543, on Tuesdays and Thursdays bewteen 9 a.m. and noon. Applications for the program will be available on an ongoing basis, sponsors said.