A housing initiative in Quebec City is trying to offer solutions to two timely problems in the province: the difficulty for university students to find affordable lodgings and the isolation among seniors in residences.
Jeanne Huard, 20, a student in political science and Alicia Verrelli, 21, who studies geography, moved into the Jardins Saint-Sacrement seniors’ residence in September.
The Université Laval students exchange 10 hours of volunteer work per week for food and lodging in the private seniors’ residence, known as an RPA (résidence privée pour aînés).
In an interview with Radio-Canada, they said they appreciate the experience, an innovation in Quebec City.
“Living [and] discussing with seniors about our lives or their lives, it allows us to mix our conceptions of the world,” said Huard. “It’s very enriching.”
“We create activities and ways to encourage this kind of socialization. We eat dinner with the residents, we organize the occasional activity,” said Verrelli.
Residents enthusiastic about experiment
The idea started with two volunteers, says Alan Burns, the director of Jardins Saint-Sacrement residence.
He says they began reading and researching the benefits of intergenerational living and how to creatively implement it in their facility — something that has already been done in other parts of the province, including a seniors’ residence in Trois-Rivières.
The organizing committee of this project says the goal is to address three key issues: isolation among seniors, the housing shortage and the labour shortage.
Burns says the residents are having a lot of fun with the project.
“They received it with enthusiasm, a lot of joy,” said Burns.
Burn thinks any costs are outweighed by the returns. He hopes seniors who are less isolated will see an improvement in their quality of life and overall health. He thinks it may even end up saving the health-care system some money.
Francine Audet, a resident of Saint-Sacrement, says the two young women are like a “breath of fresh air.”
“It takes our mind off things, and that’s what we need. Because older people are more inclined to stay [alone] at home. And with this, it gets them out,” added resident Blanche Lavoie.
‘The way of the future’
This kind of program is “the way of the future,” says Pierre Lynch, the president of a group that represents Quebec retirees — the Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et préretraitées.
He notes that living in multigenerational spaces is good for all involved but particularly for retired and elderly people who may be particularly vulnerable to feeling isolated.
“For a lot of people that who are staying alone, it’s their constant living condition, being isolated and not having anybody to talk to or to tend to if ever they have needs,” said Lynch.
“When you stop being in the workforce you tend to be perceived as being someone that’s not useful to society anymore.”
Mixing age groups can turn seniors’ homes into a microcosm of outside society, where seniors no longer feel like “outcasts,” he said.
“It improves their self-esteem. It improves their health … they have a sense of being able to contribute by sharing their experience and their expertise.”
Moving the project forward
Burns hopes other RPAs will follow their lead and introduce similar initiatives, adding that the phone lines have been ringing off the hook in recent days.
“There are people calling to find out more information,” Burns said. But he adds: “It will require creativity to continue this project moving forward.”