For residents at the Oaks, a homeless shelter in Ottowa, Canada, you'd think alcohol would be the root of most problems and much less the solution for its substance-abusing tenants. However, thanks to a harm-reduction concept known as “wet houses,” chilled wine on tap is being provided on an hourly basis to those in desperate need of some free booze!
While most shelters require their tenants to be sober, the Oaks, located on the west side working-class neighborhood of Carlington, realizes that failing to give tenants their daily dose of alcohol results in something a little more damaging—pushing them outdoors and into the streets, searching for drugs and booze often at the hands of theft and robbery.
“They are so dependent on alcohol that it’s their most basic need,” said Kim Van Herk, a psychiatric nurse with Ottawa Inner City Health. “If that need is not being met, nothing else matters for them. It’s hard for other people to get their minds around how severe their addiction is – they feel like they’re going to die. But once that need is met for them, they can start looking at other parts of their life.”
With the first pour of the day administered at 7:30 a.m. and last call at 9:30 p.m.,the Oaks allows residents one 5-ounce pour of wine each hour. While it may sound excessive, the pour is calculated just enough for each resident to ward off the shakes and sweats that often come with withdrawal.
Dorothy Young, the Oak’s activities coordinator and now “bartender”, cuts off anyone who comes in intoxicated, and won’t give them another drink until they sober up. The wine is made on-site, and the hourly mugs of alcohol have proven to help the homeless stave off their bad habits.
Upon first arrival, most residents tend to drink the maximum. However, after an extended stay, many tenants stop drinking outside, begin to drink fewer ounces, and even skip pours. One resident even gave up alcohol and now prefers an hourly pour of grape juice to stay apart of the group.
While hourly pours of wine probably won’t become a mainstay at most homeless shelters, the Oaks has gained the trust of their tenants and provided them with a more stable life — keeping them indoors where they have access to mental health workers, food, and medicine in the form of free booze.