Sunday, May 16, 2004

Single moms going online to double up as housemates

A story published today in the Daily Review reports that a new service exists to match single mothers who are looking for opportunities to share a home with other single mothers.

For example, consider Tina Hinkle who lugged one end of a dresser into her new home with a smile. Her mother handled the other end, careful not to trip walking backward up a flight of stairs.

In between steps, Hinkle spoke about how excited her 5-year-old son was about the move.  "He kept asking me 'How many days, Mommy? How many days 'til we move?'" she said with a laugh.

Hinkle, 25, and her two children have been searching for a permanent home for months. She filed for divorce in April, and they've been staying with her mother in Plano, north of Dallas.

Worried that she'd only be able to afford a cramped apartment, Hinkle clicked on, a Web site for single mothers. Through it, she was able to find the ideal living situation just blocks from her mother's home.

"It was truly a God thing," said Hinkle, a preschool teacher. "My kids are able to stay at the same school and church and everything." addresses in a novel way the challenges single mothers face.

The site, which is growing in popularity across the country, serves as a matchmaking service for any single mother interested in sharing her homes with another single mother and her family. By pooling their energy and finances, the two families can provide each other the support that normally comes from a second parent.

"There are just so many ways that house sharing could help women," said Carmel Sullivan, Co-Abode's founder.

Sullivan started the site three years ago when she found herself in a difficult and unfamiliar situation.

"I came out of a 17-year marriage," said Sullivan, a professional painter. "I didn't want to raise my son on my own."

She posted an ad on a Web site requesting a specific living arrangement: to share a house with a single mother with a child her son's age.

"It was after I got someone for myself that I found all these women looking for the same thing," Sullivan said.

Most of the women responding to her ad were living either with their parents or in small one-bedroom apartments, with the mother sleeping on a couch, she said.

"I thought some of these women should be introduced to each other," she said.

With Internet training from her 8-year-old son, Sullivan started, a nonprofit organization that she continues to run out of her Los Angeles living room.

With a one-time membership fee of $29.99 to cover costs, quickly attracted mothers from California and then spread.

The different ways the site was helping women was surprising, Sullivan said.

It's allowed some to be able to hold on to their houses by renting to another single mother, she said.

Other women have been able to leave abusive relationships and take their kids with them by finding someone to live with.

The site has about 13,000 paying members across the country and thousands of others who visit regularly, Sullivan said. So far, about 550 women have found a family to share a home with.

Hinkle found Debra Mallek through the site in less than a month and knew quickly she was the perfect roommate.

"She'll understand my situation better than a landlord would," Hinkle said.

Mallek, 52, learned about Co-Abode two months ago in a women's magazine. She signed on hoping to find a tenant for the upstairs section of her home. She specifically wanted someone with children; her own 21-year-old daughter moved out a year ago.

"I like having kids around. I like to cook for people. When you live alone, it's not the same," said Mallek, who is single and works in real estate.

Hinkle was the first person Mallek interviewed.

"We talked for a couple of hours about the expectations each of us had," Mallek said. "It seemed like we were a good match."

Women like Mallek, looking to share a home with a family after their own children have grown up and moved out, are common on Co-Abode, Sullivan said.

"They want to help a younger single mother raise her children," she said. "How absolutely fantastic."

Co-Abode is one of scores of Web sites people are using to find new living situations. Sites such as and have become popular for both apartment hunters and landlords.

Steve Jones, founder of the Association of Internet Researchers, said more and more people are using the Internet to find housing, especially young singles. People who don't fall into that category often find a specialized service more useful, he said.

The number of group-specific sites online for not only housing but also services such as dating is expected to grow, Jones said.

"The Internet is not a mass medium in that sense," said Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "The more such groups become familiar with the Internet, the more they will create sites directed more at them."

Sullivan said she hopes her site will eventually become "a one-stop resource center for all of the needs of a single mother."

The site already provides other services, such as the Circle of Friends section that helps users create local networks of single moms.

But Sullivan said the house-sharing section will always be the site's focus because single mothers have few other ways to find the right roommate.

Despite the successes on the site so far, many single mothers are still looking for that perfect roommate.

Melissa Bellaire, 35, has been a member of Co-Abode since February. She heard about the site from the local news and knew it could be the key to getting her life on track.


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