Two generations separate them. In the living room where Martine, 72, and Benjamin, 21, receive a few photos of their duo slipped into the memories of the eldest. A discreet incarnation, barely sufficient to signify the place taken by this tall young man, erased behind his red locks, in the daily life of the retiree.
Strangers to each other two years ago, since September 2020 they have been sharing Martine’s warm pavilion, nestled in the heart of a quiet district of Choisy-le-Roi (Val-de-Marne). Like 90 other Ile-de-France pairs overseen by the Pari solidaire association, they have opted for intergenerational cohabitation: a type of accommodation governed by the Elan law of 2018, which allows young people aged 18 to 30 to live with seniors, in exchange for a moderate rent and some services.
A compromise “Saving”, judge Martine and Benjamin, while the Covid-19 pandemic has isolated and weakened them. When they meet in March 2020 through a common acquaintance, he has been staying with friends for over a year. Broken by heavy family problems and “Deeply depressed”, his level in college is plummeting. At the same time, the health of Francis, Martine’s husband, who has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for sixteen years, is declining. “I felt it was time to ask for help, to have another presence at home to allow me to continue living there”, remembers the retiree.
But the fulgurance of the epidemic quickly sweeps the duo’s project, like other cohabitations. Between 2019 and 2020, the Cohabilis associative network thus recorded a 30% drop in the number of roommates in Île-de-France, which has been slowly declining since the start of the 2021 school year. “With the fear of illness, many seniors have given up on cohabitation but at the same time, demand from the young side has exploded”, says Cohabilis.
For Martine and Benjamin, however, there is no question of waiting for the lull to build their new life. The move-in date was set a few days after Francis suddenly left the nursing home. “It allowed me not to sink”, she slips bluntly. With his luggage under his arm, the young man takes over the attic specially transformed into a studio. “Finding myself in an almost family setting, after months of difficult confinement, I had a hard time believing it”, confides the student, who will take months to feel ” his home “.
An installation all the more destabilizing as the epidemic forces the duo to redouble their vigilance. “We waited to be vaccinated to share our meals, even today, we try to limit contact”, Martine details. Through ” responsibility ” towards his roommate, Benjamin cuts himself off from most of his relationships at the height of the epidemic. But the mutual protection that these two bring to each other goes beyond the strict sanitary conditions. “We help each other when things are not going well, I confide in him, and that helps him to open up about his own problems. I’m good with words, it’s a form of therapy ”, summarizes Martine.
Very independent on a daily basis, she, involved in her parish and he, between university and work-study program in the city of Choisy-le-Roi, the two roommates, who have planned to spend Christmas together with Francis, remain linked by the Solidarity Bet: Benjamin pays Martine € 150 each month and helps with shopping or crafts. A unique relationship, difficult to grasp for those around you. “My relatives sometimes have trouble understanding that, despite our affection, our relationship remains contractual” she recalls.
If Martine were to no longer be able to welcome him, the association guarantees Benjamin rehousing with another senior volunteer. An additional security that allows him to consider his future “More serenely”. “Fusional”, the duo do not consider a separation before “At least three years”. Secretly, Martine nurtures the ambition to convert those close to her to this way of life, but she warns: “You have to be ready to change your habits. “