Homeless street-drinkers brew their own beer

An innovative project in Vancouver, Canada, has come up with a novel way to help street drinkers refrain from drinking harmful products like mouthwash and hand sanitiser – they teach clients how to brew their own beer and wine.

Launched last year, the alcohol cooperative scheme supplies members with five liters of home-brewed beer or wine each month. To qualify, members must pay a $10 monthly fee, mix and bottle the batches themselves, and be members of the centre’s ‘Drinker’s Lounge’, a support group for about 90 street drinkers.

Mark Townsend, director of the Drug Users Resource Centre, a publicly funded agency that runs the co-op, says the idea is to keep Vancouver’s homeless alcoholics from turning to “rubbish” sources of alcohol like hand sanitiser or mouthwash. “We do know that it’s better that people don’t drink rubbing alcohol,” he said.

Kevin, a new member of the group, said: “To get five bottles for $10, that attracted me to it.” He also praised its “health aspect,” arguing that drinking homemade beer is better than “drinking rub [rubbing alcohol] or some bottle I found in a bin somewhere.”

Kevin and two other members of the cooperative, Tim and Rob, help to bottle up jugs of fermented beer, one containing Dutch lager, the other honey lager. Previous sessions have also brewed wine, and a batch of chardonnay is expected to be ready to distribute soon.

“It’s more economically viable than buying it at a liquor store. You get more bang for your buck,” said Rob, a local man who has been with the project since it started last summer. Although Rob never drank mouthwash or other industrial alcohols, he did say the project has stopped him from stealing. The five litres, he says, lasts him for about a week.