Morrie O’Connor has been working with people with disability through the Community Living Association since the early 1990’s. He is a strong believer in helping people to live independently. Here he shares some of his experiences and ideas about living arrangements for people with intellectual or learning disability.

Through direct experience Morrie has learned:

  • Independent living is most successful when people receive ongoing support that matches their abilities and needs. This may be a combination of household management support, budgeting support, meal preparation, neighbourhood relation support, visitor and other relationship support.
  • It is important to be aware that people with disability living alone can experience loneliness and be vulnerable.
  • People with intellectual disability are also vulnerable in congregate care and congregate social housing settings.
  • The Community Living Association has supported instances of people with an intellectual disability and people without disability living together. Some of these arrangements have been very successful and others have been moderately successful.

Morrie says ‘The reality is that people with disability living together may work in some situations but living with others, always has some difficulties and sometimes peoples’ disabilities increase their difficulties’ and ‘Each person and situation is unique and sometimes it means trying different things to help people towards independence’.

Types of living situations which the Community Living Association has supported include a housing co-op, a KeyRing approach, and homeshare arrangements.

The Housing Co-op has been operating for 25 years. Members of this common equity co-op are also its tenants and managers. A Committee determines rent and organises maintenance. A part time worker supports the co-op. Most members live alone and over time as people live alone this seems to be preferred option. One joint tenancy within the co-op, between a person with disability and person without disability, has been ongoing for five years. Originally they lived together in a Housing Co-op property but when one housemate required specialised accommodation they moved together to a new property.

The KeyRing model of support for independent living developed in the UK. The model involves people with a range of disabilities living within walking distance of each other and a community volunteer or community living worker assisting with fostering community connections and mutual support. The benefits of KeyRing support can be: increased independence, flexibility of support, day to day issues are responded to promptly, an encouraging peer network, increased confidence, increased community links, support for healthy and safe lifestyles, increased choice in daily life, opportunities to contribute to the local community, and prolonged tenancies.

The Community Living Association initiated a key ring arrangement with two units across the road from each other, but found it difficult to scale it up to a viable size. He would like to try this model again in the future.

For further information Morrie recommends the My Place-KeyRing program (a submission document by Northern Support Services – KeyRing Model, Geraldine Fowler).


The Community Living Association has supported a range of homeshare arrangements. Homeshare arrangements involve a person with disability and person/s without disability sharing a home. For example, the association worked with a family to purchase a three bedroom house. However, it is currently two people with disability (both of whom receive some external paid support) and one person without disability (who pays discounted rent). The last tenant without disability lived in the situation for 2 years before moving on. The current tenant without disability has been in the arrangement for 6 months. Morrie commented that there is a need to put energy into providing ongoing support to homeshare housemates.

Morrie said that ‘It is important to find “the right people” as housemates who will be safe to live with, and relate naturally as a housemate. They also need to be ok with family members and support workers coming to the home and to be ok if a person experiences some mental health or behavioural issues’.

The Community Living Association also assists young people coming out of foster care. One young woman was going to be placed in a women’s hostel. CLA arranged for her to stay on with her foster carer for a couple of years and then move into her own accommodation in a homeshare co-tenancy arrangement. One co-sharer was with her for two years and another for one year. These co-sharers are still part of the young woman’s informal network. The CLA Key Worker supporting this arrangement has been able to assist the young woman to establish a Circle of Support (see more information about these below), which includes these ex-housemates.

To provide stability, it would be ideal for housemates to live in the arrangement for long periods of time. However, many homeshare housemates are young people, whose lives change over time and they need to move on. This is an opportunity for ex-housemates to maintain connections if people would like to, even if they move on. The Community Living Associations often uses relationship based recruitment to find housemates through family networks and worker networks.

Morrie says that a key worker who is committed to supporting people to gain the maximum out of shared arrangements is necessary. Key workers need training and support. Some people with intellectual disabilities have experienced very difficult and traumatic backgrounds; their backgrounds will influence the type of housing and support which will work for them.

Circles of Support

A Circle of Support is a group of family, friends and supportive workers who come together to give support and friendship to a person. They help them do the things they would like to do and support in planning for new things in their life and planning for the future. This may be day to day things in a person’s life, such as going out in the evening, meeting new people or going shopping. It may also be big things, such as going on a holiday, finding a job, moving house, leaving school, leaving further education.

The members of a person’s circle can suggest ideas and help to plan. They can also help someone to meet new people. It is always easier to sort out or plan things together as a group.

The Community Living Association supports people with intellectual or learning disability with independent living by finding arrangements that best suit their preferences and needs. Morrie has seen many different situations some with positive results, some needing modifications to make them even better. He continues to create opportunities for people with disability to live independently.

Views and experiences included on this site do not necessarily reflect the views of the Queensland Government or indicate a commitment to a particular course of action.