After her husband died, Pat Dunn had to find herself a new home. The couple had been living on a boat for years but she could not afford it without him. So she moved into a trailer.
Dunn lives in a trailer park near Lindsay, Ont., five months of the year and finds somewhere else to stay during the rest. The 69-year-old knows she can’t keep doing that.
So she went looking for alternatives, but money and wait lists restricted her. She figured there were other women in her situation. So she started up a Facebook group in February to look for similar roommates. She called it Senior Ladies Living Together.
“We have to come up with creative solutions and we have to find them ourselves,” she said. “I can’t wait for the government because I don’t know how many years I’ve got left.”
She figured she would get five or 10 replies. By the end of the first week, 58 women were in the group. Now there are 600 seniors from all over Ontario looking for roommates.
“I knew it was bigger than just the local area and bigger than just me finding ladies to live with.”
According to Stats Canada’s 2016 census, 347,805 female seniors in Ontario live alone.
Alternative to retirement home
Carolyn Mackenzie and Faye Petherick joined the group early on and became fast friends with Dunn.
Now the trio is getting ready to move into a home together in Peterborough. They chat online every day and met in person last week to start fleshing out some of the smaller details — cooking, cleaning and doing dishes. They’re still looking for a fourth roommate.
Mackenzie, 69, couldn’t believe how closely she relates to many of the women posting in the group.
“Single women on their own have such a hard time making ends meet,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, finally, maybe there is something besides going into a retirement home or a long-term care centre.'”
She said the group has given her hope. Petherick agrees. Getting to know all the ladies has made her happy.
“It’s not that I ever thought I was unhappy but I’m realizing I am happier,” she said.
Petherick is 68 but continues to work because “rents aren’t cheap.” She doesn’t want to work forever so she thought this would be a good alternative to save some money and socialize a bit more.
“I also used to love the Golden Girls show,” she said, referring to the long-running American TV situation comedy about four elderly women living together.
“I thought ‘Oh, that’s interesting. I could be part of our little own little personal Golden Girls.'”
‘The future is right now’
Though Dunn’s Facebook group started as a place for her to find these women, she’s decided to keep it going. It’s now become a full-time job. And she’s swamped.
Her trailer has become the group’s war room.
She gets up around 5:30 a.m., logs into her computer and then she’s on it all day. She figures she puts 12 to 14 hours into the page seven days a week. That time is spent coordinating all the members, leading discussions and helping others find senior roommates around the province.
“I did not picture ever feeling [this] kind of excitement again to be frank. This experience of the group and meeting people the way I have has changed my life,” she said.
With the page’s growth, she’s worried ladies aren’t getting what they joined for. Dunn admits this living model could be trickier in small towns without the population — or communities where rents are more expensive.
There’s only so much Dunn can do on her own. She’s hoping this sparks the idea for others, and that it spreads beyond her group.
“Remember this is our final chapter of life. There’s no do-overs and there’s really no future like there always has been before in our lives,” she said.
“The future is right now and the next few whatever years we have left.”