BRITISH COLUMBIA

Vancouver's Portland Hotel Society Teaches Alcoholics To Make Booze

02/19/2014 06:00 EST | Updated 02/19/2014 06:59 EST

Many extreme alcoholics on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside hardly ever drink beer or wine — instead they drink rubbing alcohol, hair spray, and hand sanitizer.

It's these alcoholics that Vancouver non-profit Portland Hotel Society (PHS) is targeting with a harm reduction program called the Managed Alcohol Program (MAP).

MAP teaches alcoholics how to make their own booze. And while the idea may seem backwards at first, it is a welcomed option for some.

"I was living on the streets, and I was drinking Listerine and rubbing alcohol, sleeping in the park," says Valerie, a participant of the program, in a PHS video posted to Vimeo. "And all I had for a blanket was a plastic bag."

According to CBC News, the program — which currently has about 90 members — requires participants to pool their own money to buy the ingredients to make wine and beer. Then they can brew the alcohol and drink it as an alternative to the more dangerous and extreme kinds they were ingesting before.

To be eligible for MAP, people must be members of the PHS Drinkers' Lounge group, reports Global News, which means attending a weekly educational meeting.

"Since participating in MAP ... the changes in their lives have been pretty radical," said MAP Manager Julie McGuiness in the video.

"People are healthier, they have got the relationships in their lives, they have family in their lives, they have support systems. They are connected to health care. I would say that people are happy."

PHS made headlines a few weeks ago when news spread that the organization operates two crack pipe vending machines. The initiative was introduced to help curb the spread of disease in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside by giving addicts easy access to clean, cheap pipes.

The machines were slammed by the federal government, highlighting a widespread view that harm reduction actually just enables addicts instead of helping them.

But Mark Townsend, PHS executive director, defends his organization's stance.

“I think what’s hard for people to understand, they only see one half of these things,” he told Global News.

“You have to remember that this Drinkers’ Lounge or alcohol-maintenance program, is part of a continuum of things that we do for detox and treatment. What we try and do is the best we can do, facing the issues that we face.”

And as for the people actually participating in the programs?

"It's awesome," Valerie said in the Vimeo video. "I love it. If I skip a drink it doesn't really matter to me because I'm maintaining."

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