The street cleaners of Amsterdam are adding alcoholics, who are paid in beer, to their ranks as part of an ambitious, pragmatic program.
Alcoholism can be a massive problem in anyone's life, but authorities in Amsterdam seek to deal with this problem in a pragmatic manner: By making Alcoholic do something for booze, such as cleaning streets. The project, being conducted in Oost-Watergraafsmeer in central Amsterdam, presents an option to a group of chronic booze hounds who have set up shop in the park: Work, and get paid in beer. The project has brought in two dozen alcoholics, and seems to be doing quite well for itself, benefiting both alcoholics and the city of Amsterdam.
The impact of alcoholism can be huge, no matter the person or place. The alcoholic, their friends, their family are often on the blunt end of any damage caused by the alcoholic, be it physical, mental, property-based, or psychological. Chronic alcoholism is even worse, in that the alcoholics need booze to actually function. However, alcoholism, as with any form of addiction, is not something that can be easily cured or fixed. Getting clean from the addiction requires extensive cooperation from the alcoholic, and a support network from doctors, family, and friends (along with perhaps the state) to help them out. That requires a large amount of resources.
Amsterdam, and authorities in the Netherlands, are not seeking to solve that problem, since it can be a wasteful effort. Rather, through state-funded non-profit organizations such as the Rainbow Foundation, they seek to make the problem useful in some way. They see the problem of alcoholism as a moral problem, but a moral problem that cannot be solved by government, and instead would rather see the alcoholics be put to use somehow.
The project is simple: Give the alcoholics, all volunteers, €10 ($13), some tobacco to make cigarettes, and about five cans of beer per day while they they clean the streets of Oosterpark and surrounding areas. The alcoholics receive two cans for breakfast, two for lunch, and one after work. The Rainbow Foundation monitors their drinking habits, but there is enough trust between the alcoholics and the social workers that the former can record their own alcohol consumption.
Of course, whether the plan actually works remains to be seen. Some of the volunteers still drink heavily outside of work. But it is a step in the right direction, and allows even alcoholics to be useful to society.
(Image Sources: Flickr: driek, Bruce Tuten)