The concept of communal living is not new. It’s been around for a very long time and shows up as co-housing, tiny home communities and even whole villages turned into communal living locations. Almost every day, we hear about another way communal living is taking shape somewhere.
Even architects and construction companies are getting on board. They have started building co-living apartment buildings or designating specific floors as shared accommodation.
With so many options available, how hard could it be for an interested senior woman to find a shared living solution? Well, when our founder, Pat Dunn, started looking for affordable shared housing, she found no options that worked for her.
Pat and her husband were living their dream…..
In 2011, Pat Dunn and her husband embarked on their retirement voyage to the Caribbean aboard their boat. It was the culmination of 10 years of preparation and hard work, but they were finally on their way.
Then in November of 2014, their dream retirement was over when Pat’s husband died suddenly of a massive heart attack while they were in Mexico. He was 66 and Pat was 64.
Major changes happened quickly thereafter. Pat sold the boat which had been her home for 13 years and moved back to Ontario alone to start a new life. She had been out of the country for 3 years, so her friends had disbursed. Plus her children lived far apart, so she no longer had a home base.
Coping with so many small and large decisions was hard for Pat but the most difficult issue to deal with was her financial situation. Here’s what Pat has to say about this:
“Our Canadian dollar was worth more in the Caribbean
but we were still careful not to overspend. We were
just happy to be together and living our dream.
However, with only one income after my husband died,
I was unable to make ends meet. That shocked me
to the core, frankly. Now, I was living in poverty
for the first time in my life.”
As time went on, Pat had to use her credit card each month just to survive. Her debt load kept increasing to the point of becoming unmanageable. She tried to get a job but she was deemed either too old or considered overqualified. She also tried starting an online business but only gained more debt.
Trying to survive…..
Pat had used the proceeds from the sale of the boat to purchase a trailer which she lived in for 5 months each year. This was affordable but she had to spend more than 50% of her income for the other seven months. So, she could never get ahead.
Finally, she sold the trailer to get out of debt, and in the Fall of 2018, just 4 years after her husband’s death, she was homeless.
“I sat at my laptop and googled ‘how to live safely in a car’.
It was a very low point for me, and I felt a deep sense of shame.”
Pat had already applied for rent-geared-to-income housing and learned that there was a minimum 3-year waitlist. This was definitely not an option. She checked out co-housing and tiny home communities but most of these required some capital investment which she didn’t have. She looked at rooms for rent and boarding houses but they were either very shabby, somewhat dangerous or there was no protection from illegal eviction.
There had to be a better way…..
It seemed she was backed into a corner, with no viable option but to live in her car. But Pat was not content with that. She thought there must be a better way. So, she decided to see if there were other women who would consider living together with her in a rented house.
In February 2019, she started a Facebook group called Senior Ladies Living Together and invited women living alone in Ontario to come and discuss the idea.
By the end of the first month, there were over 200 members in the group and it just kept growing! A year after starting, there were 1700 members from all over Ontario.
“I had no idea there were so many senior women
living in precarious housing situations
and/or socially isolated.
So now, I had a different problem…..
I needed to find a way to help them all, not just myself.”
Pat had skills in program development from her career as a Public Health Nurse, so she developed a program to help group members find compatible homemates. Over time, the program grew to include homemate agreements and lots of other support and tools.
Pat succeeds and so do many others…..
In December 2019, Pat began living in a rented house with 2 women she met in the group. She now has a completely affordable life-style with lots of companionship and social support. Many other success stories have come out of the group as well.
Pat listened to the brave and resourceful women in her Facebook group and spent considerable time learning about all of the systemic barriers that these women faced. (You can read more about this in our article called Why senior women need to consider shared housing.)
Her passion to help all of these women grew stronger with each day that passed.
However, as the group membership grew, it became clear that the Facebook platform was not the best way to support the current members, much less try to include women living in other provinces. So, Pat decided to open a non-profit corporation in order to build a viable plan for serving all Canadian senior women looking for an affordable housing option.
Thus, this website was born.
“There is an affordable housing crisis in Canada,
and more creative solutions like Senior Women Living Together
are needed now and into the future. Safe and secure housing
should not be a privilege; it should be a right for every Canadian.
As well, there should be no senior women living in poverty, not one.
So, we have a lot of work to do to right these wrongs.”
If you are interested in helping to advocate for changes to any and all inequities that senior women face, watch for an announcement when we open our Advocacy Group. We would love to have some members join us in building and maintaining our advocacy program.
17 replies on “Our Founder’s Story”
I’d be interested in advocacy work too. So let me know if you start up something!
Thank you for all that you are doing! Unfortunately many senior woman are in very similar situations to yours. And your organization is a light at the end of a tunnel. Working on my search for house mates.
Kudos to your development of a non-profit corporation. I am certainly interested in getting involved at the advocacy level. I didn’t realize your previous profession was in public health. With more and more people developing environmental illness/multiple chemical sensitivities, combined with not only lack of resources but also complicity in facilitating sources of environmental pollution, there is a critical need for environmentally safe housing. In fact, in one of the Facebook groups I’m in, there are a couple of members interested in joining a thinktank of sorts to figure out how we can get real estate developers interested in this venture.
GoldenOldie, I’ve been wanting to get some volunteers working on advocacy. Perhaps, start by creating a plan. I’ll contact you about helping out with this.
Sounds great, Pat! Looking forward to it.
I’d be interested in advocacy work too. So let me know if you start up something!
Pat, I love you already and I don’t even know you! I’ve done my share of traveling too; most of it was once I was on my own. I had a little house — the first I bought on my own — which I sold to buy a 5th wheel and truck, and traveled all over the US and a bit of Canada, then camped in the south of the US during winters, with summers spent at my son’s house. When I arrived back in Canada at the start of Covid, I could see it would be rough to use my trailer so I sold it and moved in with a friend, staying in her walkout basement apt. Now she wants the apt for her adult son, so I have to go! It makes me sad, but on the other hand, I’m looking forward to a new adventure.
Yes, travelling is wonderful but for me, it’s just too much now, sadly. A little bird told me that you have found a homemate already. Way to go!!
Pat you give inspiration to all the women today looking for alternative living and wonderful new adventures with new friends. Thanks for sharing ;your story…look forward to finding my new home.
Thanks so much. It’s been a labour of love for me. Wishing you good luck finding the perfect shared living home. 🙂
An inspiring story.
Close to my own with a few changes.
I’m retired….living on too few pension $s. And quite frankly starving for intelligent female companionship. I have children and siblings….but do not want to be appended to them.
I have high hopes for this organization.
The key to finding compatible homemates is to be persistent in your search. It may take some time, but it’s worth it to look carefully for the “intelligent female companionship” you are seeking.
I’ve just reread your story Pat. You are such an inspiration. Thank you for starting SWLT. It’s a brilliant idea and much needed.
Well, I’m glad you are finding it helpful. It’s a labour of love for me, of course, but it helps me keep going when I see how much it is helping other women.
Pat, we could all have had the scary journey you have had. I knew how older single women are the poorest in Canada; I planned for it, saving like crazy in my twenties. Then it got wiped out, nada for me either because of the market downturn, an unscrupulous funds manager. I had no money to get legal help and I had just left my marriage. We can help each other so much; that is the strength of women,….
So true, Ginger. Alone we can survive: but together, we can thrive.