The Beginning

  • 1966 at New York Metropolitan Hospital 17 addicts are placed on a trial cyclazocine maintenance programme.
  • Dr Judiaane Densen Gerber the resident psychiatrist assigned to the ward.
  • Judianne decides to start a "drug free" programme at the hospital. All are required to go cold turkey.
  • Odyssey House is ultimately the successful outgrowth of this project.

Odyssey History

  • 1977 Odyssey House Sydney established.
  • 1979 Odyssey House Melbourne established.
  • 1980 Odyssey House Auckland established.
  • July 1982 core group, Odyssey Auckland opens in Parnell.
  • 1985 a core group of 16 residents arrives in Christchurch to establish new Odyssey House programme.
  • 1985 Odyssey House programme opens in Christchurch.
  • Odyssey House Trust has been successfully providing treatment in Christchurch for the past 26 years.
  • Services include treatment for the following groups.
  • Residential for Adult males.
  • Residential for male and female youth age 14-18.
  • Day programme for both male and female age 12-19.
  • Prison based Alcohol and Drug Assessments
  • Outreach post and pre program support
  • Driving Change Group
  • Support groups - 24/7, Friday Group and Odyssey support group
  • Community Youth Mental Health and Alcohol & Drug Service
  • Alcohol and Drug Assessment Service (ADAS)


Odyssey House Drug Rehabilitation programmes had their origins in New York in the early 1960s. They were a response to the rising tide of drug abuse in post war society.

Many in New Zealand were concerned at the increasing number of drug users coming to note, the ruinous effect of drug taking on the individual, and the cost to society of criminal activity to sustain drug habits. Of particular concern was the increasing number of teenagers being caught up in drug use.

Two Christchurch people who saw the problem first hand in their everyday lives were Jim Consedine, a Catholic priest and prison chaplain and David Robinson of the Probation Service. Both were concerned for intervention to change the lives of those afflicted by drug abuse. Jim Consedine had in the early 80s spent time whilst on sabbatical leave looking at overseas programmes and regarded Odyssey programmes as the most viable in effecting change. In particular these programmes sought to not only end an individual's drug use but they also sought to focus on life reconstruction and rehabilitation.

They sought the support and commitment of a small group of like-minded individuals and thus the 17th Odyssey House Programme in the USA, Australia and New Zealand was born.

Programmes already existed in Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne and a format existed for support to Christchurch in the difficult task of getting a programme off the ground with concerns about finance, accommodation and staffing prominent. It was clear that significant support from governmental agencies would be needed but it was at a time that central government was reorganizing departmental functions and it was difficult to get commitments of support in this changing bureaucratic environment. Also impinging on private sector support in the early years was the 1987 sharemarket crash.

Auckland Odyssey provided much support and guidance. Auckland Board Chairperson Barbara Goodman met the Christchurch Board at intervals and our chairman visited the Auckland programme and Auckland Board meetings.

Early exploration of accommodation options and financing were brought to a head when Auckland offered an inaugural group of 14 residents and a programme leader and booked their travel south!

We quickly gathered a board of trustees offering a wide range of appropriate skills and settled on a large house in Gloucester Street east as a home for the programme – not ideal by any means! Although the Christchurch programme became a reality, big issues remained to grapple with. Priorities included familiarization with Programme requirements, procurement of items and personnel to ensure the Programme could function and receive oversight. Board members sought resources of all kinds and adopted a constitution to ensure good governance. Limitations of the Gloucester Street site meant alternative accommodation to meet present and growth needs remained a pressing issue.

Funding was an immediate and ongoing issue. Drug addict rehabilitation seemed to lack lustre as a priority for Government and a Cinderella charity in the eyes of the public.

There was need for public education regarding the importance of helping individuals crippled by addiction and cost to community of the addiction scourge. A general prejudice against drug users and rehabilitation centres meant that accommodation options we examined were inevitably unpopular if residential areas were involved. This meant examination of sites on the fringe of or outside of Christchurch. Council district planning schemes were unhelpful as they had not envisaged or anticipated drug rehabilitation centres.

Perhaps unwisely, the Christchurch Programme sought to develop a range of services very early on including adult, adolescent and parents with children options.

Whilst Odyssey programmes have formats providing for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the addict's life the format is adjusted to meet individual needs. The first Graduation from the Christchurch Programme was celebrated in July 1986. It is a feature of Odyssey that graduates make up a percentage of staff appointments at all levels.

Our financial and accommodation limitations provided ongoing very real worries in terms of staffing, basic necessities and standards.

Then came a break through. Father Jim Consedine reported the Catholic Church might be prepared to make the former Cottesmore College in Greers Road available on very reasonable terms. The offer was explored and accepted with gratitude.

In November 1987 Jeff Hollis the first Director of Odyssey Christchurch left for Australia and Geoff Soma from Australia was appointed in his stead.

Board members assisted with professional inputs to programme needs and served on a variety of sub committees including House, Finance and Education. In the 1990s fund raising activities were led by Lyn Atkinson as convenor of a committee and an admissions centre was established in Cambridge Terrace. Odyssey Christchurch was accepting referrals from the South Island and sometimes from other New Zealand centres. Relationships were strengthened with Odyssey Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne, all programmes becoming members of the ANZOF Foundation. Discussions were held with the Waimairi District Council about our planning status, neighbours and the general public were informed and reassured about our presence. The programme began to prosper – financial constraints remained but were manageable in the context of the favourable lease from the Church.

Then another turn of the wheel – the Church advised it wished to sell the Cottesmore property. We would be welcome to be the purchaser but where would we find the deposit and how could we service the loan required for purchase?

Debate on the Board saw some members convinced it was impossible, whilst others, given the options available, believed that ways and means had to be found. It was a long drawn out and nerve wracking time of waiting, of seeking support in many quarters. The outcome was the purchase of the property in 1991 thanks in particular to the generosity of the Church and support of Trustbank Canterbury. An official opening of our home occurred at the beginning of 1992. For some time our financial position remained precarious and we were frequently in significant overdraft.

After the dramas of the first six years of existence the ensuing years have been more comfortable as finance has been more assured and loan commitments steadily reduced to a debt free status today. Gone perhaps are the days of hotel raffles, House and Garden tours, charity dinners, including guest speaker Prime Minister David Lange (who gave his time free), though we still welcome any financial assistance which is essential to ensure the programme needs are met.

For a time adolescent programmes were discontinued but now residential and day programmes for adolescents are provided in a recently opened new building.

Odyssey remains a programme with the credibility to not only assist addicts in overcoming their habit but also to reconstruct their lives in a meaningful way. Many hundreds have benefited with a number finding their way back into the world by way of a re-entry house in Waltham.

High standards of performance and accountability exist and a user representative now attends Board meetings. Links with Maori, parents and community are fostered. Regular Community Dinners are held.

Odyssey Christchurch has been fortunate in attracting Board members of ability and commitment who have given strong governance. We have been fortunate too in the leadership of successive Directors. Typical of other commitments has been that of our Minute Secretary Jenny Dick who has discharged her duties professionally since Christchurch Odyssey's inception.

Education of the public is leading to greater awareness of the nature of drug addiction and its implications for the individual and the community. It is not something which occurs on "the other side of the tracks" which the more affluent can treat with complacency and disdain. This is not the nature of the beast. Every individual in society is vulnerable, particularly the young and those with predisposing genetic make ups. Drug abuse of any kind damages young developing minds, ruins relationships and disables people in employment. Drug abusers are a menace among others whether it be driving a vehicle or at a party. The needs of those who become addicted must be addressed not only for their sake to reclaim their lives but because of the huge cost to society of related crime, disablement and relationship breakdowns.

Drug abuse may lead to intellectual impairment but many of the victims are initially intelligent young people with great potential.

Drug misuse is the great scourge of our society. We endeavour to deal with the aftermath and reconstruct shattered lives. The availability of drugs, the dealers, and the ever changing array of life destroying substances remain the highest priority for our Government and law enforcement agencies. Purveying drugs equates to attempted mass murder in my book.

Barry Rich


Odyssey Christchurch

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