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A few years ago, Lisa set a goal for herself to become more independent.

This past spring she was able to realize that goal when she moved out on her own for the first time with help provided by Epic Opportunities and its new home sharing service. The service matches people who are seeking a supported living arrangement with individuals in the community who are willing to share their home and provide care in a nurturing, safe and stable environment that promotes growth and encourages personal choice and opportunity.

In May, Lisa moved into her new home in south Winnipeg with Shanae McLeod, a health care aid and former Disability Support Worker (DSW) with Epic Opportunities. Lisa says the move has turned out to be everything she had hoped for.

“I’m happy about it. I feel like I made the right decision,” she says while looking around the three-bedroom apartment she now shares. “Here it’s different. I’m a lot more independent here.”

Not only has the move provided Lisa with more independence, it’s also given her an opportunity to start afresh. Her mom, Linda, passed away nearly six years ago and seeing reminders of her at the home she shared with her dad, Garth, was sometimes difficult.

“There were a lot of memories at the house,” she says. “Here, it feels like a fresh start.”

Lisa and Shanae had an opportunity to start building a relationship before they moved in together. Shanae supported Lisa last summer while she was still working as a DSW with Epic Opportunities.

In fact, it was Shanae’s work as a DSW that prompted her to consider becoming part of the home share service. She had seen the effect staff turnover can sometimes have on people who are served in the community and felt she could provide more consistent support through home sharing and its one-on-one approach.

“I think here you can help more and offer more continuity of support,” she says.

The process of sharing a home actually began nearly a year before Lisa and Shanae moved in together. First, Epic Opportunities conducted a rigorous assessment process which includes a thorough screening of potential home share hosts. Lisa and Shanae then searched for a suitable apartment that met each of their personal needs, including close proximity to their respective families.

Unlike other residential services provided by Epic Opportunities, there is no paid staff as part of the home service model. Instead, the in-house caregiver supports an individual to deal with day-to-day issues and achieve long-term goals.

“It gives a different kind of meaning to life to people who open their home,” says Service Development Coordinator Jennifer Welsh. “You are supporting someone to have a better life each and every day. It provides a lot of personal fulfillment to see them learn and grow and gain new skills.”

Lisa says her new living arrangements have already had a profound impact on her.

“I’m not a very good communicator with everybody,” she says. “Here, I’m a good communicator. I need to be able to talk. If something is bothering me or on my mind I have to speak up and not be afraid to ask people for help. If there is an issue I have to talk about it so I can move on.”

Shanae says she too has gained from the experience of sharing her home with Lisa.

“As much as I have helped Lisa and seen her become more independent, she has helped me learn more about myself and learn new skills,” she explains. “She’s grown as a person and so have I.”

The pair have also discovered how much they have in common. They both share many of the same values, including a strong sense of faith, and are both self-described night owls.

As much as she has enjoyed her home sharing experience, Shanae has some advice for anyone who may be interested in doing likewise. The most important thing, she says, is to be prepared to make a long-term commitment.

“I’ve talked to people and I tell them it’s definitely a commitment,” she says. “It’s not a short-term thing. You have to be committed to sharing your life with someone.”

Welsh says while home sharing is still a relatively new service model for Epic Opportunities, there has been significant interest in it by members of the community. She expects the service will continue to grow based on demand and preliminary work has already begun in regards to determining the suitability of a second potential home share residence.

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