I have seen in a few threads mentioned that Elive is forced now to use systemd because otherwise some important apps wouldn't work.
I use antiX Linux (which is based on Debian 10) and antiX is a systemd-free distro as well and it's very functional. So if they have managed to avoid systemd, then maybe Elive can do it too?
They even have support for two different inits (runit and sysvinit).
I can personally confirm that cairo-dock and gnome-disk-utility work on antiX 19.1.