Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Amsterdam Hires Alcoholics to Clean the City and Pays Them in Beer

Not Beer Money, Beer

Alcoholism is a serious disease, destroying the lives of those who have it and the lives of those associated with those who have it.  How to treat and deal with alcoholics is something that has puzzled civilizations ever since grapes were fermented.  The problem has still not been solved.

So it is with some interest that one learns that the city of Amsterdam (the Netherlands, not New York) has decided to hire alcoholics to clean the city and be paid in beer.  Not just a few beers, a lot of beer.

Jasper Juinen for The New York Times
A group of alcoholics in Amsterdam are given beer during breaks from their street-cleaning job.

The program, started last year by the Rainbow Foundation, a private but mostly government-funded organization that helps the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics get back on their feet, is so popular that there is a long waiting list of chronic alcoholics eager to join the beer-fueled cleaning teams.

And here is how life is for one participant.

“You have to look sharp,” said Mr. Schiphorst, 60, a former construction worker.

His workday begins unfailingly at 9 a.m. — with two cans of beer, a down payment on a salary paid mostly in alcohol. He gets two more cans at lunch and then another can or, if all goes smoothly, two to round off a productive day.

Does this work?  Well anecdotal evidence is positive so far.

One of the project’s most enthusiastic supporters is Fatima Elatik, district mayor of eastern Amsterdam. As a practicing Muslim who wears a head scarf, Ms. Elatik personally disapproves of alcohol but says she believes that alcoholics “cannot be just ostracized” and told to shape up. It is better, she said, to give them something to do and restrict their drinking to a limited amount of beer with no hard alcohol.

Obviously this is controversial, and it is hard to work up a lot of enthusiasm for this solution.  But it is impossible to work up enthusiasm for the other solutions, because they seem to utterly fail with the exception of maybe AA.  So okay Amsterdam, let’s see what happens. 

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