The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

As we continue to shelter-in-place, Covia Community Service programs have found new ways to support their participants’ safety and well-being. For the Home Match program, staff have created new safety-informed initiatives and resource guides to support participants, sent care packages to ongoing matches, and developed digital initiatives to better reach people online.

For ongoing matches, Home Match staff have been facilitating conversations around safely sharing a home during COVID-19. “We put together a home-sharing specific questionnaire to guide productive conversations around maintaining health and safety in a shared-home, and for proactively planning for the event that a homemate becomes ill,” says Tori Shepard, Home Match Program Manager in San Francisco. “We also mediated a number of these conversations virtually, which received very positive feedback, particularly in homes where some homemates are at higher risk of severe illness.”

The Home Match team also boosted the spirits of ongoing matches by sending staff-curated care packages. These Happiness Packages consisted of fun activities that matches can participate in together as well as self-care items for relaxing while staying at home. Items included pancake mix, green tea, Rubik’s cubes, homemade soap, and puzzle books.

“We’ve received back a lot of gratitude from matches,” says Shepard. One participant wrote to say “We were truly delighted after receiving our package. In this new normal, for a couple of minutes, we felt the love of our friends and family.” 

Many participants have “also noted their gratitude for each other, as shelter-in-place buddies,” Shepard notes. “One of our matches shared that she’s grateful to be sharing her home, during these uncertain times. Since she’s at higher risk for severe illness, her homemate does all the shopping to make sure they have what they need – she’s even planted a food garden. She says it’s wonderful having someone to laugh with and talk to.”

The Home Match team has also been sharing helpful information with participants and adapting their program operations. For participants who have not yet been matched, the Home Match team provided local resource guides related to food, unemployment, and mental health. Following guidelines from local health orders and the CDC, Home Match has also adapted overall program operations to safely support participants and new matches while taking in the reality of the current situation.

“We’ve transitioned to 100% virtual operations and developed new safety procedures, in adherence with shelter-in-place orders,” notes Shepard. “All our participant interactions—including appointments, home visits, outreach activities, and Living Together Agreements—are now offered by phone or video call.

“Operating remotely has also created an opportunity to focus on the program’s online tools and presence,” says Shepard, while noting that “we are taking extra care to still reach those who do not have a computer or internet access.” Part of this focus is a new Home Match website, which debuted the week of July 24th. The new website includes expanded information for interested home-sharers, as well as testimonials from ongoing matches.

“We love the new website,” notes Shepard. “It has a much more open and content-rich layout, which gives us more room to tell our story. New features like our inquiry form and staff profiles give us more avenues to get to know our prospective participants and vice versa.”

The new Home Match website is available here and is a great jumping off point to learn more about the program and how they support the community.

Jonathan and Jackie have only lived together for a few months, but they both say it already feels like they’ve known each other forever. They found each other through Home Match, a program of Covia Community Services. Jonathan describes Home Match as “a ‘dating service’ that helps you find the perfect roommate.” For both Jonathan and Jackie, finding Home Match was a life saver.

Jonathan, a social worker with the city of San Francisco, couldn’t find affordable rentals in San Francisco and was commuting daily from Hercules. “I was searching for a place to live. I tried Craigslist, Apartments.com, asking through friends, with no success,” he says. “It was either Home Match or I had to leave San Francisco.”

Jackie, a retired hotel worker, was thinking of giving up her San Francisco apartment where she’d lived for years in order to save some money. “Then I thought I LOVE this neighborhood,” she says. “Why don’t I just see about a roommate.”

Home Match was the key for both Jonathan and Jackie. Home Match helps homeowners with extra rooms connect with home seekers who need an affordable place to live, creating a win-win situation. Home Match staff interview prospective homeowners and home seekers to check backgrounds and ensure compatibility, then connect people by researching personal preferences, house types, and interests. In some cases, accommodation can be provided in exchange for services, such as driving to the grocery store or lending a hand around the house. With this kind of arrangement, senior homeowners can often continue to be successful in their own home, while lodgers have access to affordable housing so they can remain in the area and continue their good work.

“With Home Match, along comes Jonathan, and he’s been a blessing,” says Jackie. “Living with him has opened the door back to life. It’s the best thing that could have happened to me.”

Jonathan and Jackie both appreciated the personal nature of the application and matching process. “I felt that I was being treated with dignity throughout the process,” Jonathan notes. “I always felt like I could trust the Home Match team.”

“I would absolutely recommend Home Match to anyone in my position. I love it because it brings people together, even those who you wouldn’t think would connect,” Jonathan says.

*This article was previously published in the Fall 2019 edition of Community Matters