The transformation is staggering.
A tanned, trendily-dressed and clean-shaven young man greets me with a beaming, open smile as I walk through the door.
Gone is the hooded, haunted look of the broken soul encountered six weeks ago at a motel in Lavington.
Leslie radiates health, happiness and something so much more precious … hope.
Sitting next to him like a proud mother hen is the woman who rescued the troubled 24-year-old off the streets of Lavington on that bitterly cold night in August.
Salon owner Kate Young can’t wait to tell me Leslie is now a very confident L-plater with 40 hours of driving under his belt.
He’s mowing lawns, walking her dogs and has found work washing cars two mornings a week at Gary Fair Car Sales in Lavington.
He’s now living in a room out the back of Kate’s house.
It’s clear the young man and the big-hearted hairdresser have become mates.
The tears well in Leslie’s eyes as he describes the kindness that has transformed his life.
“I feel like I’ve got my spirit back and I’m not in a corner,” he smiles.
“Every morning I feel happy to wake up. Knowing I can work and the support I’ve received from Kate has made a huge difference.”
The little things mean a lot – food, showers and a warm bed in which to rest.
That and being treated with some humanity.
Kate says trying to help Leslie navigate “the system” has been a shocking eye-opener and a massive exercise in frustration.
It started when she attempted to get Leslie into housing while he was staying in the motel she paid for.
“We’re still waiting,” she says.
“There was the offer of the men’s shelter but it’s not a safe place for a young man and because he had accommodation available to him in Sydney there was no option here.”
Kate says it was "not without some trepidation” that she offered Leslie a roof over his head at her own place.
“It was highlighted to me not to have anything to do with Les because he was volatile and would be dangerous,” she says.
“One night he sat down and told me his story and quite frankly if I’d had to deal with what he has I would have lost it completely.”
At the start of her Good Samaritan journey, Kate says she was mindful of getting a clear picture before bagging people or processes.
Now she’s outspokenly damning of the “patronising treatment” that de-humanises vulnerable people like Les.
“It took me two weeks of arguing with a woman in Sydney to get his clothes sent down and then at a Department of Family and Community Services meeting we were presented with a garbage bag with three items in it,” Kate says.
“I watched Les go from a normal human being to a teeth-grinding mess.”
Don’t get her started on the many fingers in the pie of Les’s management.
“I’m already up to seven people who have some hand in Les’s life and most of them haven’t met him,” she says.
“I’ve run my own business since 1985 and I’ve had plenty of ups and downs but I’ve never experienced the hair-tearing frustration of trying to navigate this system.”
The horror of what she has witnessed has been counter-balanced by incredible generosity.
Like the woman who rang Kate anonymously after reading The Border Mail article to tell her about the car washing job.
Then there was the lovely driving instructor, Milton, who gave Leslie his first lessson for free.
“Stacey (Franklin) from the Carevan has also been absolutely fantastic and has tracked down some kitchen work for Leslie as things get busy,” Kate says.
“I’d watch his face and every time he would be absolutely shocked at finding people so kind and helpful.”
Hopefully, Kate says, it’s a reminder “the world is not such a shitty place.”
These days Leslie has his anger issues mostly under control – walking Kate’s dogs at the weir has played a huge part in that.
One thing still haunts him.
The night his father died the children were all ripped away from their mother and immediately placed in foster care.
Leslie was seven.
With Kate’s help, he’s desperately trying to track down the files that might piece together the story of how a vulnerable boy ended up shuffled through care, haphazard mental health intervention, onto the streets and with a stint in jail.
Leslie is the first to admit if Kate had not stopped on that fateful night, his story would be very different to the one being told today.
“I’d either be dead or back in jail,” he says bluntly.
Instead he’s busily building Kate a coffee table at the Thurgoona Men’s Shed for Christmas.
I've run my own business since 1985 and I've had plenty of ups and downs but I've never experienced the hair-tearing frustration of trying to navigate this system.Kate Young