CONTENT WARNING: This story discusses drug use and mental health. If this story raises any issues for you, please call DirectLine on 1800 888 236 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

Working casually as a bartender at a Melbourne nightclub, Ellias was not struggling financially. Instead, his struggle was a toxic relationship with drugs, with his mental health at a near all-time low. 

By the time he was 15, Ellias was one of the 2,700 young people couch surfing and staying temporarily with other households (AIHW. 2021). He did this until he was able to find permanent accommodation in a rundown share-house with a few mates on the fringes of the city.  

This is when we first met Ellias. He was referred to Transition to Work (TTW), a program helping young people gain the confidence and skills to transition into sustainable, meaningful, and permanent employment. 

After his first few appointments and after learning more about his struggle with drugs, Ellias was referred to our Youth Northern Outreach Team (YNOT) for 1 call per week to get some extra (and confidential) support to make in-roads on his relationship with drugs. Ellias really appreciated the step his Youth Coach took, and that he was never forced to stop, but instead was given all the facts and knowledge so he could make his own informed decisions. However, he wasn't quite ready yet, and stopped returning their phone calls (but continued checking in with his employment coach). 

Throughout Ellias’ conversations with his TTW Youth Coach, Ellias expressed a keen interest for a job where he could help people and actually feel like he was doing something good. When he was younger the roles were reversed, and he had nothing but respect for people working in that field.  

“I wanted to be in a place where I was happy and healthy enough to give people support, like the support that was given to me.” 

Hiding his bartending job in fear of getting in trouble (Ellias just laughs at this now), his Youth Coach recommended he do some work experience at our social enterprise - The Little Social - to gain some exposure to the workforce.  

After 2 months at The Little Social, a 'Client Engagement Officer Traineeship' came up at The Living Room (TLR) - a primary health service that provides free healthcare and support to improve the physical, mental and social well-being of individuals who are, or at risk of experiencing homelessness right in the heart of Melbourne.  

Ellias’ Youth Coach suggested that he should apply. And so, after applying and a successful interview, he was offered the role (woo!). Soon after starting, Covid-19 came in full swing and Australia soon went into its first lockdown. While most places closed their doors, things amped up at TLR to increase frontline support for some of the most vulnerable people in Melbourne.  

During this time (like many Melbournians) Ellias’ mental health deteriorated, and his drug use crept back in. He tried reaching out to a mental health support service, but after waiting on hold for 8 long hours, he was told straight away that he smokes too much and was dismissed.  

Feeling absolutely defeated and at an all-time low, Ellias called his manager and asked for a week off. During this time, he sat in his room and needed the support of his housemates to help pick him up. It was in this moment that Ellias knew he was finally ready to begin the first steps to sobriety. 

Looking back on it, he wishes he reached out to his Youth Coach sooner as he would have received the support he needed (without being on hold for 8 long hours!)

Coming back to work, he knew he had to be honest with his teammates to get the support he needed. Because he was sobering up, there were going to be some short-term side effects and he wanted his team to know why and that it was only for a short period of time.  

Ellias also knew that it was time, and in his best interest, to find a new share house arrangement. As much as he loved his housemates (and still continues to), he knew that he needed to move into a more chill environment that was going to allow him to rest properly, not tempt risky behaviours, and support his new working lifestyle.   

At the time of writing this story, Ellias is now more than 18 months sober, his mental health has improved, and overall, he is doing fantastic. He completed his traineeship, got his learner's license, bought his first car, and moved into a new share house. He is still friends with his previous housemates and continues to catch up with them quite regularly, and (probably most excitingly)...

Ellias was offered and accepted a permanent, ongoing role as the Client Engagement Officer (since changed to Support Worker) at The Living Room!

When describing how he felt, Ellias simply said, “I made it dude!”  

And it gets even better... After 6 months, he had earned yet ANOTHER PROMOTION to Administration Lead. 

“Since I walked into The Living Room, I knew I wanted that job and (now) it was finally happening!"

Even though Ellias loved his Client Engagement role, it was a lot of pressure and he found himself leaning more into the administrative role. He is still able to work directly with clients, but in this new role, he is able to make key decisions for clients including whether a doctor is the best choice, the urgency of client requests, or if he can troubleshoot/solve challenges for people through his own initiative. In essence, he is the middle person between the client and the doctor/hospital/specialist - the advocate, the voice, the person committed to ensuring nobody gets left in the shadows.

Ellias and The Living Room client, Ben 

Through Youth Projects and The Living Room, Ellias has been able to gain the confidence needed to know that he can and will succeed. He is also an avid shoe collector, and since getting stable employment has been able to grow his collection, “I never thought I would be this happy, and have the coolest shoes, and have friends and, money!”

Ellias has become a true frontline warrior and deeply valued member of The Living Room team. Not only amongst his colleagues, but with people accessing the services. His Team Leader, Hayley, often shares that she's proud of Ellias as if he was one of her own children, "it’s been an absolute pleasure seeing Ellias constantly evolve and grow at YP. Ellias is always keen to learn new things and I’m so proud of him.” 

His future is bright, and whilst Ellias wants to stay within the community health space, he is very keen on diving deeper into the medical side of things, "it's a really practical and tangible way to help vulnerable people. Knowing that I'm part of a team that gives access to necessities like doctors, nurses, and basic health care, which is something a lot of people do not have access to, is such a rewarding feeling!“  

We cannot wait to see what Ellias does for the Melbourne community.  

Image 1: Ellias and The Living Room staff. Image 2: Ellias in Hosier Lane with a large portrait of Cindy Sherman
Untitled Film Still #58 in the background. Image 3: Ellias embracing his The Living Room coworker

Help us continue providing high-impact support services for The Living Room by donating to Youth Projects today.