British Columbia

Is your roommate driving you nuts? New quarantine conflict service may help

Mediate B.C.'s new service offers help to roommates, families, neighbours and couples who are struggling with coronavirus stresses.

Mediate B.C.'s new service offers help to roommates, families, neighbours, couples struggling with conflict

Mediate B.C. is offering a new service for anyone finding themselves in quarantine conflict with a roommate, spouse or family member. (Shutterstock / TeodorLazarev)

While absence is supposed to make the heart grow fonder, in the time of COVID-19 quarantines, many are finding the opposite is also true: forced proximity can drive you nuts.

It's why Mediate B.C. has launched a service to help roommates, families, couples — any individuals who have suddenly found themselves unhappily spending more time together than normal — sort out their issues. 

The program manager for the new Quarantine Conflict Resolution Service (QCRS) says the idea grew out of roommate conflicts she was hearing about in places like Italy and Denmark, where coronavirus anxiety hit earlier and where people had to adapt to isolation measures long before they were imposed here in B.C.

"I've heard lots of stories about roommates who don't know one another well, who both normally worked long hours outside of the home, and who are now in a small apartment trying to work from home at the same time," said Amanda Semenoff.

"And, for example, there may only be only one good camera-ready strong Wi-Fi spot and they both have meetings at the same time."

With provincial officials directing everyone to stay home, Semenoff says people are missing their usual "escape hatches."

It means underlying tensions that might normally sort themselves out can escalate into bigger problems, whether that be in families that co-parent, between parents and teens, or between roommates.

'Can't just leave'

"If you have a really positive and strong relationship you can often figure it out. But often we haven't had to have those kinds of conversations ... and when things blow up and make you feel badly, you also now can't just leave," Semenoff said. 

"A lot of the ways people used to handle conflict — I'm going to go out for coffee with a friend and talk it through with them and I'm going to come back in a space more ready to handle this — we don't get to do those things now."

The QCRS works by assigning a professional mediator with the applicable area of expertise to parties who sign up for the service.

Fees are charged on a sliding scale determined by income, starting at $20 per party/per hour for those making less than $45,000 a year. 

In some circumstances, the fees can be waived altogether. 

"We know people have had significant recent changes," said Semenoff. "We are doing some completely pro bono work because we know that's what people need right now."

The QCRS has been up and running for a few days. Semenoff says it normally takes parties a bit of time to investigate the mediation process before deciding it's right for them. 

"Under the new stresses that people are experiencing it's really hard to say if they'll reach out faster," she said.

"Almost always when somebody has reached out and we've had the first conversation they say, 'I wish I had talked to you earlier.'"

The QCRS has 35 civil and family mediators on its roster. All meetings are held online or by phone.