The pandemic of 2020 has thrown the plight of people living alone into sharp relief, with social lives virtually at a standstill, and even home visits restricted to two other people for anyone living along.
But the problems of single living are not restricted to the situation of a worldwide virus, and the seclusion especially of later life is something a new housing project called Homemates aims to tackle.
Homemates is an initiative of Jean-Pierre Vyncke, one of the founders of SeniorenNet, Belgium’s largest online community for the over-50s. According to SeniorenNet, there are half a million people from the age group currently living in a home that’s too large for them, that continues to need maintenance and upkeep, that faces new and tougher energy requirements.
The site fits perfectly into the mould of so many sites nowadays where one person is looking for another: whether a freelancer looking for clients, tradespeople looking for customers or singles looking for romance. Homemates is for home owners looking for what used to be called lodgers, and vice versa.
“The great asset is that everyone knows someone who would benefit from the Homemates concept,” said Vyncke. “And politicians and (local) authorities were also interested as soon as we mentioned the idea informally.”
In Belgium, the organisers reckon, there are some 900,000 people living alone who could share their residence with someone else, or move in with someone living alone.
“Background, history, age and gender of the homemates do not play a role and it is in principle not the idea to pursue a romantic relationship,” the organisers said.
“The homemate may be of the same generation but may also differ in age. You can live with two or more people, but each retains their own privacy, with agreed private and shared spaces. Single parents, young adults, busy people over 50 – all are also eligible.”
The idea has been more than two years in the making, and in the early days Vyncke organised a poll with the help of the Artevelde university college in Ghent. That showed that 30% of respondents aged 52-82 would be willing to share a residence, and half of those would pay to do so.
That was enough of a result for Homemates to be convinced the idea had potential. At present it is being launched in Flanders, with a view to branching out to the rest of Belgium later.
The site is now open for pre-registration, and from 15 January it will be possible to construct a profile and fill in personal details. The site will then bring suitable matches together, first for an online chat and later for a live meeting. All along the way, even when finally living together, they will be accompanied by Homemates living coaches.