The Guardian – On a grey January morning at 9.15, residents of the Oaks shelter for the homeless started lining up, coffee mugs in hand, at a yellow linoleum counter. At half past the hour, the pour began. The Oaks’ residents are hard-core alcoholics. They line up to get what most people would consider the very last thing they need: an hourly mug of alcohol. …
The Oaks is a converted hotel next to a pawnshop, in Carlington, a working-class neighbourhood on the west side of Ottawa, Canada. When residents first arrive, they tend to drink the maximum, every hour, every day. Many also drink whatever they can buy or shoplift outside the building. For most, this gradually changes. They stop drinking outside, begin to ask for fewer ounces, skip pours or have a “special pour” of watered-down wine.
It’s stories like this that make me reconsider the notion that Canada is just a vast wasteland of Zambonis, lumberjacks and beaver dams with a couple of strip clubs mixed in. Because this is subversively genius. Because what better way could there be to keep homeless alcoholics off the street than a little bit of the old John Barleycorn for breakfast, then every hour after that? Why go out panhandling, standing at off-ramps with cardboard signs or making it really awkward for those of us stuck at traffic lights to ignore you but do it just casually enough that it doesn’t come off like we’re actually ignoring you, when you can just hang around the shelter getting a buzz on with your fellow homeless alcoholics?
This is the best thing to happen to problem drinkers since the police lock up drunk tank. Keeping them behind doors in a shelter with an open bar makes them seem less like homeless people and more like members of an exclusive club. So good for you, America’s Hat. Next time (read: the first time) I visit Ottawa, I know where I’m staying.
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