Beer Money: Amsterdam Officials Pay Drunks in Beer to Clean up Streets

Giving five cans of beer, £8 and a pouch of rolling tobacco to alcoholics seems a bit odd because you’re feeding the habit but that’s exactly what officials in liberal-minded Amsterdam are doing. In return, the addicts are cleaning up the city streets as part of the Rainbow Foundation Project. They’re split into two groups of 10, each of which works a three day week as part of the government sponsored scheme.

The project organiser, Gerrie Holterman explains the policy: “This group of chronic alcoholics was causing a nuisance in Amsterdam's Oosterpark: fights, noise, disagreeable comments to women. The aim is to keep them occupied, to get them doing something so they no longer cause trouble at the park.” Part of Holterman’s rationale is that as Dutch heroin clinics administer that drug to their addicts, “Why shouldn't we also give people beer?”

Each day the workers arrive before 9am. They’re given two cans of beer and the option of a coffee before work. Holterman’s team monitor the alcoholic’s intake but she makes them record it themselves. They get lunch, which is a hot meal and a further two cans, before the afternoon shift which finishes at 3.30pm. Their reward for a long hard day’s work is another can of five percent beer.

Holterman is not defensive of the programme but says, “You have to see things like this: everyone benefits. They're no longer in the park, they drink less, they eat better and they have something to keep them busy during the day.”

One of the workers, a man called Frank, is less convinced of the benefits to Amsterdam or its resident alcholics, “Of course we drink in a more structured way, but I don't think that we drink less. When we leave here, we go to the supermarket and transform the 10 euros we earned into beers. When the supermarket opens at 8:00 am, we're the first there so we can get some drinks.”

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