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 2019-2022

Odyssey House Victoria is a state-wide organisation dedicated to improving the lives of individuals who experience significant or long-term problems due to their alcohol and other drug use. In addition, Odyssey House has a commitment to assisting in the prevention of these problems in the community, and to offering support to family members, including children, affected by someone else’s alcohol or other drug use.

Our beliefs and operating guidelines 

  • People come to Odyssey House Victoria for help with their alcohol and other drug problems, but Odyssey House always aims to work more broadly with people, their families and the community to address the range of issues that contribute to, or arise from, their drug and alcohol problems. 
  • Underlying issues vary from person to person and may include other health or mental health problems, trauma, child abuse or neglect, relationship breakdown, parenting, gambling or financial problems. 
  • Odyssey House staff do not blame people for their past experiences. However, we encourage people to share a responsibility for their recovery and getting the help they need. 
  • Odyssey House staff take a bio-psycho-social and public health approach, rather than a legal or medical approach to respond to drug and alcohol problems, and we utilise the expertise and support from a range of professions, peers, and those in recovery to deliver our services. 
  • Our services support people to achieve their goals and to establish meaningful participation in the community, including vocational training and employment. Assisting people to develop positive relationships and effectively manage their emotions are keys to their recovery and wellbeing. 
  • Staff members work to instil a belief that change and recovery are possible, utilising a strengths-based approach. 
  • Odyssey House believe that family inclusive approaches to treatment generally lead to improved long-term outcomes for all involved. Protecting the wellbeing and safety of children is everyone’s business and we work hard to maintain a “child safe” organisation. 
  • Odyssey House seeks and values the input of clients and consumers in the development and management of our programs and services. 
  • Our programs draw on the available evidence and practice wisdom from an eclectic mix of models and theories to ensure the best possible service responses are being provided. We also aim to contribute to the evidence through our own evaluations and research.
  • Odyssey House examines emerging needs, takes calculated risks, and strives to innovate wherever possible, documenting our findings along the way. 
  • Odyssey House aims to direct most of our resources toward service delivery. Consequently, our administration and management costs are appropriately modest, and within sector benchmarks. 
  • Odyssey House welcomes people of all cultural backgrounds, faiths, gender and sexual orientation into our services. We aim to be flexible and sensitive, wherever possible, to accommodate their diverse needs. 
  • Odyssey House will be pro-active in increasing the diversity and gender equality of our staff and senior management, and we will contribute to the development of women in leadership roles. 
  • Odyssey House Victoria recognises that Aboriginal people were the original custodians of the land on which we live and work. Consequently, we accept that we have a unique responsibility to promote the wellbeing and culture of Aboriginal Australians. We are committed to reconciliation and closing the health gap, and we will strive to build relationships with Aboriginal Australians to ensure our services are accessible, relevant and culturally safe. 

Current and Anticipated Future Environment and Issues 

  • Ongoing national and state reform of health service systems and fiscal restraint 
  • Tension between increased government expectations, regulation and oversight, and the desire of government to simplify bureaucracy and outsource risk 
  • Move towards activity based funding and greater accountability of performance across all programs 
  • Increasing policy directives that promote integrated service provision and partnerships, with the challenges of linking data and client records 
  • Ever increasing competition for fundraising dollars 
  • Fragmented funding streams and responsibilities within Government making the delivery of integrated holistic services more complex, but highly necessary 
  • An increased focus on Risk Minimisation and Risk Management 
  • Challenges in recruiting and maintaining sufficiently qualified, affordable and experienced staff, who also come with values aligned to OHV 
  • Governance and human resource challenges associated with expanding operations, developing leaders, working within consortiums, and working across multiple sites 
  • Attracting sufficient resources to adequately maintain facilities and large capital items 

Our Key Objectives and Actions

Enhance service capacity & outcomes

To enhance the capacity of Odyssey House Victoria (OHV) to achieve its Purpose by: extending the number, quality and accessibility of our residential and community-based drug and alcohol treatment programs; delivering high quality and innovative training programs to more clients and professionals; and encouraging employees to develop new and improved ways of achieving positive outcomes for clients.

Build a secure financial position

To contribute to the ongoing viability of Odyssey House Victoria by attracting adequate financial resources, identifying and pursuing opportunities for growth, and developing and implementing sound financial plans and efficient and effective systems and management practices. 

Develop our staff & our culture

To enhance the job satisfaction and productivity of Odyssey House Victoria employees by fostering a workplace culture in which staff are encouraged and assisted to reflect on and improve their capabilities and work performance. 

Evaluate and Communicate Outcomes 

To communicate the effectiveness of Odyssey House Victoria programs by formally assessing our programs, our policies and our practices, and by informing stakeholders and the general community of our outcomes. 

Emphasise Relationships & Partnerships 

To enhance Odyssey House Victoria’s ongoing success by fostering positive and purposeful relationships within Odyssey House and between Odyssey House and other critical stakeholders and service providers

Read our full Strategic Plan 2019-2022