Brew co-op in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside aims to decrease illicit drinking

Thursday 04th, September 2014 / 16:44
By Graham McFie
Photo: Ben Yokitis, retrieved from

Photo: Ben Yokitis, retrieved from

VANCOUVER — It might be baffling for some to consider providing alcohol to chronic, illicit drinkers, or incorporating them with a brew co-op where they brew their own beer or wine. However, Kailin See, Portland Hotel Society’s Drug User Resource Centre director, is pleased to provide this service.

A study released in 2013 by B.C. Centre of Disease Control on Illicit Alcohol in British Columbia, defined illicit alcohol as “alcohol that is not intended for human consumption; illegally produced homemade alcohol; and store-bought alcohol that is consumed in a highly criminalized way (i.e. drinking in public spaces).” The resource centre’s Street Entrenched Managed Alcohol Program, or SEMAP, is made whole by four fractions. “The drinkers in the managed alcohol program are usually homeless or street-entrenched and they have long-term chronic alcohol abuse,” See explained. “The aim of the program is to create community, support each other, and we’re aiming to decrease illicit alcohol consumption and have a bit more stability in people’s lives.”

Firstly, the Drinker’s Lounge is where drinkers can gather and talk over beverages. This is where the centre is also able to get to know the drinkers on a personal level. Once a member of good standing with the Drinker’s Lounge, accomplished by attending three consecutive lounges, the drinker can contribute to the brew co-op.

Contributions begin at five dollars and would yield 2.5 litres for the individual. $10 yields five litres, and $15 yields 12.5 litres. Each week the centre brews 350 litres of alcohol, and the centre brews their alcohols strong. See said that the beer’s alcohol percentage is around 10% to 13%, while their wine is 18% to 20%.

“The reason for that is if I’m going to try to make a case, that you’re going to give me your 500 millilitres of rubbing alcohol, which would be equivalent to 30 beers, I need to have a strong enough alcohol to trade you that you’re not going to go into the DTs (delirium tremens) and have a seizure and not feel well, and you’re not going to supplement with an illicit alcohol anyway.”

The exchange See mentions—rubbing alcohol for beverage alcohol—is SEMAP’s third element: alcohol exchange. This is for those unable to manage the minimum five-dollar contribution; the alcohol exchange is free.

“We request that they be unopened or three quarters full and undiluted,” See said.

Then there is the Hydration Team, comprised of Drinker’s Lounge members as well as illicit drinkers, doing outreach for other drinkers. With hot chocolate or tea in the winter, and water or Gatorade in the summer, the Hydration Team goes out twice a day for one hour to drinking spots. Trained in CPR, narcan injection and recognizing signs of seizure or alcohol overdose, the team is able to aid other drinkers passed out in the elements, or injured and have not made it to the hospital. For this initiative they are paid five dollars, which often is their contribution to the brew co-op.

The Drinker’s Lounge has also held activities like the Chug-a-Lug Carwash to raise extra funds for the brew co-op, because sometimes the brew co-op struggles to keep up. “We try to find innovative community engagement to do a few different things: make money for the brew co-op, also change the perception of drinkers in the community and spread the word about the program.”

Visit for more information about Portland Hotel Society programs.

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