09/06/2011 02:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why I Support Managed Alcohol Programs

I have to start this post by first asking you all to keep an open mind. I understand that often the harm reduction model is not easy to accept. I, myself, do not believe I would have found sobriety in such a program, but I was lucky. By the time I hit the streets I had gone through a detox. Some people are not so lucky, and drugs and alcohol have complete control over them.

Trying to help a homeless friend in Los Angeles is what changed my mind and why I requested to visit such a facility. My friend has been homeless since his mother died. After years of trying to drink his pain away there is not much of my friend left. Alcohol has completely taken over his life. His liver is damaged so much there are sores on his leg. The sores are so bad he cannot wear pants. He ties bandannas around his leg so the sores are not visible. Any normal person would have stopped drinking, but my homeless friend cannot stop on his own. He will die homeless because Los Angeles has yet to adopt the harm reduction model. Any absence-based program will not work for my friend. It breaks my heart.

This week I visited a managed alcohol program in Ottawa, Canada. The Oaks Residence is a unique partnership between the Shepherds of Good Hope, Inner City Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association. Residents are given an hourly "dose" of alcohol in a clean and safe supervised environment.

At first I was a little shocked walking in. All the residents were carrying cups, which I knew were filled with booze. But as I started to watch them I saw something gorgeous. The people who use and need this type of program are the worst of the worst, like my friend in Los Angeles. They would be outside drinking anyway, and drinking Listerine and hand sanitizer. They would be dying on the streets. Here, everyone was clean, healthy and safe. They were inside and not a burden to public safety issues. I was very impressed with the community there. What impressed me the most is I saw lives being saved (and money too).


This interview is with Joe, the manager at Shepherds of Good Hope. What follows is a story one of the clients wrote, and Billy "insisted" I read it. Please watch this video with an open mind then read Billy's story. Supporting managed alcohol treatment is a very good thing, and we need more programs like this!

Hi, My name is Bill. I've come from the States to Canada. I've lived a rough life by my own choice. I'm nearly 39 years old. After all the street lives I've lived, I ended up finally, at The Oaks which has changed my mind about the government. I can't believe they allow a piece of heaven for the lost. I'm an alcoholic in serious proportions and I need help physically and mentally. The Oaks and MAP and the WET program have provided the extreme positive and comfortable environment available to the public.

This program is based from the downtown core. Not good-and moved to the West end of Ottawa away from the mess. By mess I mean alcohol, beer, drugs, crime, prostitution, anger, frustration, dependency, hunger, violence, police brutality and bothersomeness. Mainly I mean for everyone, basically stress.

At the Oaks I am a man who can think, concentrate, focus, make plans for the future, reflect on the past and myself. One day I may write a book reflecting on the things I've done and seen and probably sell it to High Schools to scare them straight. But for now, I'll try to be a man trying to figure out a plan for my life. The World must thank the Inner City Staff for their dedication and care for all the ailments that alcoholics and addicts suffer from.

-- Bill T.