Story Corps

photo credit: Courtesy of themrkrish
Interviews and audio for this story comes courtesy of Nor Cal Public Media's Isabel Fischer as part of the series Bay Area Bountiful
SHARE Sonoma County is an organization that matches someone seeking housing with someone who can provide housing – often a person with an empty bedroom that could be occupied by a tenant or resident.  Sheila Almquist, a housing navigator with the group said there are building blocks behind the unique model of sharing homes.
"Food, housing and community are about the essential things in life," Almquist said.
Among others, the nonprofit helps connect home-owning seniors who are often caught in the “house rich, cash poor” dilemma.
Almquist continued.
"We get to provide the housing and we get to provide the community because a lot of these people, the seeker or the provider, are by themselves and they're trying to do life by themselves," Almquist said. "And when we get 'em together and form a community, it's just really a beautiful thing. They both usually thrive."
Peter Merritt Skaife is one of the homeowners who participates in SHARE Sonoma County's program.
"I'm aware of the shortage of housing and my particular interest was in sharing my home with people who are facing special challenges," Merritt Skaife said. "So I would say here, I've been in this area possibly 12 or 14 years, and for, so about a dozen years, I've been sharing the extra bedrooms in my home with people who've had a variety of situations that they faced."
Merritt Skaife said the focus for his home-share in Rohnert Park is supportive housing.
"This is a three bedroom, small, three bedroom home, and I make two of the rooms available for people to stay and we provide here food and all living expenses," Merritt Skaife said. "And so it's a place where somebody gets a safe place, but also the logistics of life are simplified basically with our food our kind of motto is 'Ask' and 'Gobble Gobble' and 'Me Too'."
"So 'ask' is to ask for a recipe and we have the various coming recipes here," Merritt Skaife said. "People can ask for the recipe and the 'gobble gobble' is to come to the refrigerator and to eat something that's there. The tag along or 'me too', is you see somebody cooking at the stove and you say, oh, me too, fix one for me too."
Rebecca DuPree is one of the resident-roommates at Merritt Skaifes’ Rohnert Park home.
"I don't even have to go shopping. Peter does that," DuPree said. "We, we just say, Alexa, add, uh, bananas to the shopping list. And Peter is so wonderful, he goes out and he does all the grocery shopping."
For Merritt Skaife, home sharing is about more than just housing, he said.
"Well, I've found that it's the part combination of good food, good movement, and what I call smiling faces, which is human contact that increases our health," Merritt Skaife said. "As Americans, we tend to be isolated, and when we're in good human contact with others, we tend to get healthy. So a benefit for anybody sharing their home if they learn to do it, is that they get their health improves their own health."
Amy Appleton, Share Sonoma County’s founder and executive director, acknowledged the process can be daunting.
"We're asking a lot of two individuals, which is you've got two literal strangers," Appleton said. "You've got this person who is a vulnerable person perhaps, and asking he or she to invite a perfect stranger into their home. It's a really big ask and we're always grateful for each participant to give us the trust that's necessary, that leap of faith to actually create that home share match."
Share Sonoma County housing navigator Sheila Almquist said decisions and connections are made with purpose and forethought.
"I wish more people knew how important having a share program in the community is because it's different than someone just renting a room in someone's home," Almquist said. "We build relationships and I think if more people knew that it was really a safe thing to do, because we really have a process that we check people out, I would hope more people would open their homes to people that need housing."
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