Drinking from the bottle of redemption

By Jason Logan

One hundred dollars a month doesn’t last long these days. For some, it might pay for their car insurance, a grocery bill or even a speeding ticket.

But for the eight men and two women in the Hope Recovery Program at the Shepherds of Good Hope, $100 per month buys them a ticket on the road to survival.

The program gives them shelter, an hourly 5-ounce glass of sherry and a cheap smoke with each drink. It’s all part of an effort to provide a controlled environment for alcohics, rather than see them endangering themselves by passing out in the streets.

Some wonder why the program’s participants should be forced to shell out $100 of the $112 monthly basic-needs allowance they get from the provincial government. After all, it does take away any financial freedom they might have had.

That’s an unrealistic viewpoint though. The $100 pays to keep them off the street and alive.

Quite the bargain when you think about it.

“You have to remember we’re talking about people whose daily goal is to get up, shower, eat one good meal and not drink a bottle of Listerine,” says Shepherds of Good Hope director Francine Vachon.

Vachon says it actually costs $300 to $400 per month per person to fund the program. She adds most in the program are fine with paying the monthly fee.

Vachon stresses that the program is by no means a jail sentence.

Participants can come and go as they please and no one is ever asked to leave the program if they can’t pay the monthly cost.

In fact, some pay only half the proposed amount, while they get adjusted to budgeting themselves. The long-range goal is to get them comfortable paying the full $100.

It’s a way for them to keep some dignity, Vachon says. She hopes that eventually they will come to realize life is better in the shelter than on the street.

That’s why they always come back, and that’s why they’re OK with paying the money. They know the program is extending their life.

Part of the reason participants pay to be in the program is so their monthly allowance is spent more wisely. The $12 left over isn’t much to live on. It can’t

even get them a haircut.

But the program does provide free services such as haircuts, dental checkups, clothing and toiletries.

What they do with the leftover money depends on the individual, Vachon says.

“I suppose some go out and buy a bottle, or two, depending on what they buy,” she says. “They just want to go out and be king or queen for a day. But for some it’s as simple as going out and getting a big meal. They might go out and get a Big Mac or something. We have burgers here now and then, but it’s just not the same, you know.”

Of course, the money paid by the participants isn’t the only means of funding for the program.

It’s first year, which came to an end on March 31, was funded by the city. And the federal government has provided $140,000 to keep the program going for the next two years.

After that though, the program’s fate is in doubt.

The provincial government provides no direct money for the program. Perhaps the government feels it does enough by doling out the monthly allowances?

For now, the 10 participants will continue to spend 16 hours per day in a dingy room no larger than a shopping mall kiosk.

The rest of their time is spent sleeping in even smaller dorms, where five cots are crammed in roughly an arm’s length apart.

The living conditions are horrendous at best but it beats living on the street where most of the program’s participants have spent a good chunk of their life.

Vachon says the program’s long-range goal is to obtain a house.

Talks are currently underway with the city. But Vachon says she doesn’t expect anything to happen for at least two or three years.

In the meantime, the eight men and two women will continue in their routine of hourly drinks and cigarettes.

And while some aim to become abstinent, others carry the more modest goal of staying alive. And all for the low cost of $100 per month.

Come to think of it, how much is your life worth to you?