Would you live in an nursing home if you didn’t have to? Meda, 24, did not hesitate for a second. This young communication student from the Democratic Republic of Congo arrived in Montpellier for her studies three years ago.

At first, she ran into some galleys on the housing side. “I had booked accommodation from Congo, and when I arrived, I realized that it was a roommate, when I wanted a studio. And then it was quite expensive. I was paying 400 euros in rent for a 13m2 room,” says the young woman.

At the time of the first confinement, she found a job as a substitute social worker at the Ehpad Simone Gillet Demangel, in Montpellier. Problem: transport is at a standstill, and Meda lives 5 kilometers from the establishment. Morning and evening, she walks to work and back home.

“And then, one day, my colleagues told me about this student roommate system within the nursing home,” she recalls.

Indeed, the Municipal Center for Social Action of the city of Montpellier (CCAS) set up a curious project three years ago. “The concept of shared accommodation started in 2018, because we realized that there were a lot of vacant apartments in the Ehpads, which corresponded to the old company apartments of the management, at the time when, without modern means of communication, they had the need to stay on the spot”, explains Françoise Bretton, deputy director general of public policies at the CCAS in Montpellier. “The idea was then born to install students there, to promote intergenerational links, at the same time to fight against student precariousness”.

Young people are therefore not housed in nursing home rooms, like residents. They have their own apartment, accommodation that can accommodate up to 3 students. “This allows them to maintain independence, and a certain form of student life”, specifies Françoise Bretton.

One of the advantages of this project is the price of rent: from 180 to 290 per month for a room. With the APL, “some have rents of 40 euros all inclusive”, reports the director.

In return, student tenants must offer 3 hours of their time each week to residents. “It can be playing music for them, offering them workshops, and even just talking,” she says.

For Meda, therefore, the opportunity is to be seized. At the start of the 2020 school year, she therefore moves into this Ehpad, which she already knows well from having worked there.

And it is a great success. “My room was already much bigger than in my old accommodation, and I was only paying 200 euros in rent. But above all, at the relational level, I like it a lot”, says the student.

Morning, noon and evening, she meets the residents in the corridors of the establishment, and spends at least 3 hours a week keeping them company. “We do board games, coloring workshops, drawing or writing, painting, knitting… We also put on films, and sometimes we have “discussion” workshops, we try to make them talk of their life, in their time…”

Méda takes pleasure in these intergenerational relationships, she feels useful and very quickly manages to get closer to the residents. “I have the ease of communicating with them, and even the somewhat difficult residents who do not want to leave their room, I manage to get them out. It’s quite motivating, it makes me happy to see that I am this person who manages to help them, to make them do things.”

Over time, the bond she created with her senior housemates became invaluable to Meda.

“I got to know them, I know their habits, their pathologies, their problems, and I am attached to almost all the residents. We get along really well, some call me “my girlfriend” and introduce me to their family when they visit them…”, she explains.

For the student, who lives far from her relatives, sharing with the residents is a way to find a form of familiar warmth. “What makes me happy is when the residents behave a bit maternally towards me, for example they comment on me when I have lost weight… For me, it’s more than a family”, assures the young woman.

The experience pleased her so much that it even inspired her with a vocation: she wants to become a social worker. “I have registered for a masters in this field for next year, I hope that I will be accepted. Living with the residents, I realized that there was nothing better than to make people smile, to help these people who need us so much to get by, because some are alone and have no family…”

Moreover, in his roommate, the atmosphere is all that is most classic between students. “We have pancake evenings, we receive our friends… It’s really at home”, reports Meda.

But unfortunately, the student will not be able to stay in this residence forever. “We limit the length of stay to 3 years, so that others can also benefit from it”, explains Françoise Bretton. THE CCAS has received nearly 30 files for the start of the 2022 school year. A selection will have to be made, because in the 5 Montpellier nursing homes participating in the project, there are only 25 rooms for students, and some tenants do not intend to free them. anytime soon.

For Meda, who has lived in Simone Gillet Demangel for almost two years, it will therefore be necessary to leave her friends in a little over a year. “But for sure I will come back, promise the young woman. All his people made me grow, I don’t see life from the same angle now”.

“It’s a great story of solidarity, there are friendships, incredible exchanges”, also assures Françoise Bretton, who is leading the project at CCAS. “We want to show that the Ehpad is a place of life, and open the Ehpad to the outside, make it visible to the public and make it a real place of life, miles away from what we have could see during the Orpea and Korian scandals”.

However, it specifies that students who participate in shared accommodation in Ehpad receive training upstream with a health manager and a psychologist, to be armed in the face of the sometimes difficult situations that can occur there.