Lasha Morningstar


November 23, 2015

Brisk. The bite of winter pushes homelessness to the forefront of many people's lives.

Flyers appear in the mailbox urging people to upgrade their insulation. My 112-year-old home creaks and groans. Winter wind pokes his fingers through hidden holes and chills feet and paws.

Energy bills start their relentless climb. Skiffs of snow grab at tires. Sparrows fluff their feathers before huddling amongst the pines.

Winter weather forecasters and the Farmer's Almanac say it is going to be a see-saw. Snow. Mild. Very cold. Snow. Mild. Very cold.

Holy Toledo!

This is a winter of our discontent . . .

in many ways. Standing in line at the bank, one's heart aches when they hear an elder ahead say to the teller, "I don't know what to do. I can't pay all of this gas bill."

One of my vows if I ever won the lottery was to buy a house near the city centre and let three or four elders live there. Each would have their own set of rooms, kitchenette and bathroom. A nominal rent ($50 a month) would be paid to allow their dignity. They, of course, could have a companion animal that would be comfortable in those circumstances.

Each would be expected to participate in life, have a hobby, take part in activities.

Privacy would be paramount, but a welcoming common room would be on the ground floor. Cleaning staff would come in twice a week and the sidewalk would be shoveled.

You can see I really let my imagination dance. But I knew it would be doable.

Well, I have not won the lottery. And guess what. The elders themselves beat me to the punch.

One well-known such venture is Performing Arts Lodge in Toronto. Those in the artistic world find companionship and comfort in the winter of their lives.

Then there is the farsighted group in Sooke, B.C. They are coming together and, in a common bond, are building their own co-operative dwelling, complete with a suite for a caregiver, so they can live there until the end of their days.

The ages in the founding group range upward from the late 50s.

No doubt they are going through the various dynamics of shared living. In any group, people sandpaper each other. But given the will to make it work, this could be a healthy, supportive community that does not need to worry about ever being homeless or uncared for.

I recall recently seeing a film on one of the Nordic countries establishing dwelling such as this. The residents were congenial with each other and led active lifestyles outside the home. The government lent support to keeping them active, with visiting nurses and physiotherapists.

Here in Canada, there is even the Canadian Senior Co-housing Society. This umbrella of information offers a plethora of facts and contacts for anyone wanting to start such a venture.

Social scientists say the thrust for co-operative living comes from middle-aged Baby Boomers. They often have witnessed their own parents put in old age homes away from friends, family and all that is familiar.


Horror stories about abuse in some institutionalized care facilities too often hit the evening news and haunt those who know their parent is in such care. As well, they worry they could be in the same situation someday.

Co-operative living, done with care and foresight, offers an alternative.

Such companionable dwellings can also contribute to ongoing good health.

Those in the medical community are expanding their viewpoints as the greying population grows. Now, as well as inactivity and obesity on their warning lists, wise medics realize being part of a caring community is as important to one's well-being as one's physical health.


Not only is the emotional component beneficial, but one's neighbours become the monitoring eyes and ears that pick up on a problem - a slowing gait, a discoloured mole, a change in mood. They can alert the person and action can be taken.

Certainly, some solitary souls would not function in such a setting. But co-operative living is worth exploring as a potential option to that hovering uncertainty "Where will I live?'"

(Lasha Morningstar