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These seniors couldn't afford living alone — so they're becoming roommates

After her husband died, Pat Dunn couldn't afford to live alone. So she put the call out for a roommate on Facebook to other single senior women. Hundreds have responded.

Women found each other via Senior Ladies Living Together, a Facebook group they started

Carolyn Mackenzie, her dog Lucy, Pat Dunn and Faye Petherick didn't know each other. They all met in a Facebook group Dunn created when she was searching for senior women to live with. Now they are about to become roommates. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

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."

Though Dunn's Facebook group started as a place for her to find someone to live with, she continues to run it to help others find senior roommates around Ontario. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

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.

A group of single senior ladies have taken a unique approach to finding affordable housing ... become roommates! Haydn Watters met with a trio of ladies in Lindsay, Ont., about to make the big move. 4:37

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.

Carolyn Mackenzie will be bringing her dog Lucy along too. She was so happy when she found the group. 'Finally there’s some hope.' (Haydn Watters/CBC)

"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.

Faye Petherick thought it was a good idea but she did have reservations. She's been single her whole life and hasn't lived with very many people. But meeting the other women alleviated her fears. 'I started to realize, yes, this can work.' (Haydn Watters/CBC)

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.

Dunn has been hearing from women around the province who say they are laughing for the first time in years. 'Breaks your heart but then I think to myself I hadn’t laughed in years either.' (Haydn Watters/CBC)

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."

About the Author

Haydn Watters is a roving reporter for Ontario, primarily serving the province's local radio shows. He has worked for CBC News and CBC Radio in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and the entertainment unit. He also ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont.

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