Home for the holidays summons within many of us years of happy memories with family and friends and shared home-cooked meals. It summons heartfelt scenes and feelings from our childhood holidays and good times together.
Now imagine not having a home.
We immediately feel deep sadness. Unfortunately, the situation is a reality for a growing number of Sonoma County residents, especially older adults. The much-publicized housing shortage—due to the Bay Area’s high cost of living and the 2017 fires that destroyed over 5,000 residences, mobile homes, and apartment buildings—has exacerbated this human crisis in our own community.
The housing crisis is so profound, and solutions so seemingly impossible, that we completely avoid thinking about or taking action to remedy the situation. Or we bury our feelings in the belief that we, individually, cannot make an impact.
There is an answer, and a local one: the vision of one individual who would no longer allow herself to be a bystander doing nothing. Her name is Amy Appleton and her solution is SHARE Sonoma County (Shared Housing and Resource Exchange).
Amy identified many Sonoma County homeowners with empty bedrooms that could be rented for income to shelter those who have fallen through the economic cracks. She started SHARE in 2014 and now has non-profit tax status.
After four years of successfully matching “providers” as she calls homeowners, with “seekers,” Amy secured funding from the City of Sebastopol and hosting from the Sebastopol Senior Center. And she’s developing services with the City of Healdsburg and their senior center for support. SHARE is a growing, immediate and successful solution to the basic, human need for shelter. The best program endorsement we can give is to tell one of its many success stories.
SHARE received a series of calls from physicians and social workers regarding an eighty-year-old man who had survived bone and prostate cancer. He had been living in his SUV for nearly a year since the home that he had lived in burned last October. His advocates were desperate to get him housing as he was physically in decline.
SHARE, meanwhile, had a retired, eighty-three-year-old, female doctor who lives on a wonderful wine country property alone. She has early dementia, wants to stay in her home, and needs some help with basic daily activities.
After extensive interviews with both parties, Amy felt that she had a perfect solution and created a housing match for them. Today both housing provider and seeker are flourishing. The gentleman provides vital, daily emotional security for someone whose world is slowly shrinking, in addition to assistance with meals and driving. She, on the other hand, is giving another older adult the security of a shared home and meaningful purpose in which he finds comfort and gratitude. Both seniors feel immensely blessed.
But it doesn’t end there. The physician’s son, who lives more than 45 minutes away, cannot believe that the growing demands for his time and deep concern for his mother’s well-being are being met. He had this to say. “Just a note to let you know that everything is working out very well for Carl and my mother. Both seem happy with the arrangement. He is super nice and a pleasant guy. Thanks, again, you saved my life! I read the short profile about you in the Bohemian. You are a hero.”
This is one of the numerous human success stories that Amy tells about SHARE’s ability to match like minds with like needs. She is a local hero solving a complex, difficult situation with determination and heart. She and her staff make significant contributions to the daily lives of those they serve.
Please visit www.sharesonomacounty.org to learn more. Make a contribution if you are compelled by your own compassion to help this important Sonoma County program. Let’s hope that SHARE will in the near future become a City of Sonoma funded solution for those who need basic shelter and a financial improvement for homeowners struggling to make financial ends meet.
I am moved to recall a familiar piece of wisdom, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.” We are entering the season of gratitude and hope. May our good fortune and compassion benefit those who struggle. May we continue to grow the goodwill that has arisen from the fires and may we all be blessed by our shared experience and mutual caring.