A place to call their own, within the community

Flat-mates (from left) Benny Sun, 31, Tham Kar Soon, 31, and Low Boon Chin, 30, at their group home on the Minds premises last month. They are looking forward to moving into a real HDB flat soon.

At first glance, the three-room flat looks like any other Housing Board unit: The living room has a TV set, a sofa and a dining table with a few chairs.

The bedrooms are small and generally neat, except for a corner where some phones and tablet devices are being charged.

But take a closer look, and one would notice some oddities.

The three male residents are not brothers and there is no family photo anywhere. An A4-size poster listing a few rules is pasted on a wall.

This is a mock-up flat, on the premises of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) in Lorong Napiri.

The residents lived here as part of their training before moving into Singapore's first community group home for the intellectually disabled, an actual four-room HDB flat in Bedok.

The Minds project, piloted in 2010, aims to allow the intellectually disabled with little family support to live independently within the community, instead of in hostels or welfare homes.

In both flats - the mock-up and the real - the men do household chores, head out for meals and grocery shopping together, and spend their free time as they choose.

Mr Tham Kar Soon, 31, whose parents and brother are dead, prefers living in the mock-up flat to the Minds hostel - just one floor below - where he spent eight years.

"The hostel could sometimes be more noisy," said the McDonald's service crew leader.

The hostel typically has eight beds in a room, common toilets, and just one TV for more than 20 people. Residents pay up to $50 a month, after subsidies.

The group home project is funded by the Tote Board and Ministry of Social and Family Development. Residents need not pay, but should have lived in the hostel for at least a year, and shown their potential to be independent.

For instance, they need to have an allowance of at least $600 a month, whether from their jobs or families.

The lease of the Bedok flat expired, so Mr Tham and his housemates moved back into the mock-up flat in 2013. But he looks forward to moving to Bukit Merah, where Minds recently secured three HDB flats - for him, his housemates and four women. They are slated to move in soon.

Mr Tham said: "Of course I prefer living outside... I can interact with the community."

Mr Ling Chong Beng, head of the hostel/group home at Minds, hopes more people would be willing to let their disabled family members live in group homes.

"This group home arrangement is not something that's cast in stone. It's not as if they can't move out once they're in. It's just like letting your child study overseas and learn to live on his own."

Last year, Minds and the Asian Women's Welfare Association piloted a scheme in which the disabled get home-based care services such as therapy and help with bathing.

This is for those who do not need centre-based services, are unsuitable for such centres because their disabilities are too severe, or those who cannot travel to the centres.

Mr Philip Choo, 40, has received home-based care such as therapy and help with personal hygiene since last October.

His mother, Madam Loong Swee King, 73, said he looks forward to days when the Minds staff come and help him with stretching exercises.

This article was first published on Mar 1, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.