The first Odyssey House opened in New York in 1966 as a residential rehabilitation program for people with a drug or alcohol addiction. Odyssey House Victoria was established in Melbourne in 1979. Today, several Odyssey Houses exist throughout the United States, New Zealand, and Australia offering a wide range of programs and services

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Our beginnings

The first Odyssey House opened in New York in the United States in 1966 as a residential rehabilitation program for people with a drug and alcohol addiction. The original program philosophy and treatment approach is described by Densen-Gerber (1973), who later brought the Odyssey House Therapeutic Community model to Australia, together with Milton Luger. Emerging from social psychiatry, the program views problematic alcohol and other drug use as a symptom of other underlying issues, and combines peer support by others in recovery with medical and psychological expertise. 

Central to the Odyssey philosophy was the conviction that a new, drug-free lifestyle could be created through self-discovery, behavioural change and new relationships, and that this could be achieved within a supportive residential community environment founded on mutual respect and responsibility. 

Odyssey House came to Australia in 1977, when Walter McGrath, whose son James died at the age of eighteen from a heroin overdose, established the James McGrath Foundation and sought help to establish a therapeutic community at Campbelltown, New South Wales. 

The following year, a group of concerned Melbourne citizens and parents established the James McGrath Foundation in Melbourne and in 1979 Melbourne’s Odyssey House opened in an ex-Salvation Army Hostel opposite St Vincent’s Hospital. After a brief move to Millgrove near Warburton, the community settled into its present home in July 1980, a former Roman Catholic Monastery in Lower Plenty. Built in 1952 and set in eighteen hectares of rolling farmland and bush by a bend in the Yarra River, the purchase was made possible by the determination of the initial board, and fundraising and community support, despite some opposition from local residents. 

Not long after Odyssey House was established, a city based “shopfront” was established in Prahran as the admission point for clients entering the therapeutic community, also providing a small range of community based services. Over time, the number of funded residential beds has increased at Lower Plenty, and other new residential facilities have also been established. 

Together with partner organisations, Odyssey’s Community Services have grown significantly across metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. They now provide a broad range of counselling, support, withdrawal and outreach programs to people of all ages affected by drug and alcohol addiction. 

The Odyssey Institute, a Registered Training Organisation, provides face-to-face and online accredited training and other short courses that focus on drug and alcohol and mental health skills, to clients, community members, and professional staff across Australia.

Our logo

Odyssey House’s logo, the symbol of the ship, represents an “odyssey” or a long and courageous journey. In a similar way, Odyssey clients make their own difficult journey of self-discovery and change. 

Rarely is the journey easy or the pathway clear. It is perhaps the ultimate test of character for all of us – summoning the courage to honestly examine our behaviour and then choosing to change. For this reason it is hard not to respect the endeavours of our clients as they ask difficult questions of themselves and inevitably grow as they answer them.

Practice Framework

Strategic plan 2024-2029

The Strategic Plan (the plan) for Odyssey House Victoria (OHV) 2024-2029 outlines our ambition to continue providing high-quality, evidence-based services that respond to complex client needs. This includes prioritising treatment and support for people facing the greatest barriers to service access.

In developing the plan, it is acknowledged that more must be done to best meet client needs. To do so, OHV must leverage its current evidence-based approach and sector position to focus on service enhancement and expansion – where there is evidence of need. Central to this is the continued elevation of people with lived and living experience within OHV’s workforce.

OHV must also continue its role as a sector leader who aims to secure greater resources – at an organisational and sector level – to meet the needs of clients.

Our purpose is to provide specialist alcohol and other drug services to Victorians with need, including the families and carers of those facing addiction. We aim to deliver holistic and innovative services that give clients hope for change, reduce alcohol and drug use, improve mental health and rebuild connection to the community.

Odyssey House exists to create a society free from the problematic use of alcohol and other drugs, in which citizens reach their full potential and are meaningfully engaged in work, family and community life.

By acting with Respect, Concern and Honesty in all our relationships, we build Trust and support people to Love and be loved.

  • Quality service delivery to meet community needs, particularly those with the greatest barriers to service access.

  • Lived and Living experience is fundamental to our work and in partnership with clinical expertise ensures a holistic approach to care.

  • Sustainability and efficiency ensuring resources are used effectively and responsibly.

  • Integrity and transparency in all interactions with all stakeholders.

Strategic priorities

Enablers

Read our full Strategic Plan 2024-2029

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