Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

A new program run by Edmonton’s Boyle Street Community Services helps homeless people reduce their consumption of non-alcoholic beverages.

The first business-oriented program of its kind in the city, the program started in June after a soft launch during the pandemic.

Fifteen participants, ranging in age from 29 to 60, visit a drop-in room daily where they consume or pick up two liters of red wine in 500 ml bottles. Participants produce and bottle the wine themselves and can access social benefits through the program.

Randy Thomson, who at 29 is the youngest of the group’s participants, said the program has helped him stop drinking alcohol, which he turned to because he could not afford anything else.

“There was just nowhere to go, nowhere to turn,” Thomson said in an interview Tuesday.

Thanks to the provision of safer alcohol and support from his new community, he said, he has attended doctor visits and housing meetings – commitments he would have missed if he had been drinking.

“The staff actually helped me turn it all around,” he said.

Studying non-drinking alcohol consumption

While working on Boyle Street a few years ago, Sindi Addorisio noticed empty bottles of Listerine and rubbing alcohol scattered around downtown Edmonton.

She quickly discovered a relative lack of academic research on alcohol consumption (NBA) – the practice of consuming liquids such as alcohol, mouthwash, hair spray, hand alcohol, cooking wine and cologne.

According to Alberta Health Services, it is dangerous to ingest these products at risk of toxic effects and overdose, but people who are addicted to alcohol sometimes turn to them because they are cheaper, stronger and more available than alcoholic beverages.

Hand alcohol in particular has become ubiquitous during the pandemic.

“Since it’s everywhere and within reach, I’m sure the intake has increased,” Addorisio said.

Researcher and front-line employee Sindi Addorisio is the co-author of a recent study on alcohol consumption without beverages among people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton. (Madeleine Cummings / CBC)

After receiving a blessing from a local elder and collaborating with the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, Addorisio set out to study NBA consumption among people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton.

Between November 2017 and June 2018, workers from Boyle Street and the 24/7 Crisis Diversion Team recruited 150 Edmontonians who had experienced homelessness in the previous six months.

Interviewers asked participants, the majority of whom were men and self-identified as natives, questions about their life situation, drug use, and health.

Nearly a quarter of them reported that they had consumed alcohol without beverages within the past six months.

According to the study, published last week in the peer-reviewed Harm Reduction Journal, those who did not drink alcohol were older than those who did not and had higher levels of mental illness.

Lina Meadows is the program supervisor for Boyle Street’s Non-Residential Managed Alcohol Program. (Madeleine Cummings / CBC)

Addorisio said that because people who consume non-alcoholic alcohol can become aggressive and loud, they tend to be unwelcome in social services.

She said peer-run programs like Boyle Street’s, which she helped secure funding for, work well and help people improve their quality of life and find housing.

Plans to expand

Program supervisor Lina Meadows mostly said that participants in Boyle Street’s program have completely stopped consuming non-beverage alcohol since joining the group. Two have gone to seek treatment, she added.

The federal government has contributed $ 592,899 to fund the program for two years.

Meadows said staff aim to expand it to include 30 attendees and offer it at locations outside of downtown Edmonton.

“It would be nice to have more sites elsewhere and to be able to remove the stigma surrounding people who consume alcohol so they can access the support they need,” she said.

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