Before the home opened, Founder Thérèse Clerc told Alison Hird of RFI English:
The dream has taken shape now, and every time I walk past this work site and see my future house, I get a thrill. I’m 84, but what time I have left is going to be happy and fulfilled. I’m sure of that. Old age isn’t about being shipwrecked. It isn’t an illness. It can be beautiful, and I plan to live it that way, with my friends and colleagues here.
Each of the 24 apartments is 40 square meters (just over 430 square feet). Residents are women aged sixty and older. Clerc says her generation of women had large families and too little time in the work force to build up good pensions. By pooling their strengths and resources, they can age in place but also in community.
Residents not only live together and look after each other, they continue working on behalf of women’s rights. They have set aside an 80 square meter space on the ground floor for an open university, where they will run courses and discussion groups, creative writing, concerts and anything else they think of to support healthy aging. They also have a 20 square meter apartment for visitors. Should they need more onsite care in future, they will make that space available for visiting doctors and nurses.
The dream was decades from initial idea to reality. Clerc began thinking about her own aging when she was in her mid-60s. Visits to state-run seniors’ residences convinced her she could not endure the regimented, controlled life they offered. So she and her group of close, feminist friends began lobbying for an alternative. They were ultimately successful, though Clerc was 85 by the time the women, in their 60s, 70s and 80s, moved into their six-story seniors’ home.
There are a lot of us gazing into our personal crystal balls and seeing the time approaching when we will want to pool our limited resources with those of friends. We want a dignified, affordable living situation, surrounded by people with whom we are compatible and know we can rely on.
When I was living in the Bay Area, I learned of two seniors’ homes organized around interests rather than age. One was for activists, the other for performers (musicians, actors and others). Other options exist, such as the Abbeyfield Houses, which can be found in countries around the world. Some are still in the thinking stage, such as Baba Yaga’s House in Toronto and Janet Torge’s idea of Radical Resthomes, prompted by a story she produced for CBC.
We will need a lot of good ideas in the coming decades. If you have some, or know of affordable alternatives, please add them in the comments.
Thanks to Tess Healy for the tip about the French Baba Yagas.