Amsterdam doesn’t believe in letting its alcoholics sleep rough in the streets. According to an AFP report, the city is willing to employ them and pay them – in beer!
This initiative is part of a government-funded program called the Rainbow Foundation Project. For cleaning the streets of Amsterdam, alcoholics are paid about 10 euros, some rolling tobacco and, most importantly, five cans of beer for a day’s work. The initial phase of the program employs some 20 “chronic alcoholics.”
Gerrie Holterman, the co-ordinator of the program, says it’s a great way to keep the otherwise problematic alcoholics busy doing something useful:
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.
These Amsterdam alcoholics work three days a week, and they receive beer throughout the day. They get two cans at the beginning of the shift, two more at lunch, and one to take home. The alcoholics interviewed by AFP for the article seemed very happy with the whole arrangement.
One said he spent his 10 euros on more alcohol once he finished work. But another said he didn’t feel like drinking after spending the day hard at work. Ironically, this could turn out to be a real problem for him.
If he consumes less beer, he could reach a point at which he is no longer classified by Amsterdam as an alcoholic and dependent on alcohol, and therefore would no longer be qualified to participate in the program.
Some people have criticized the thinking behind this novel way of dealing with the problem of alcoholics in Amsterdam. Holterman disagrees and says, “Heroin addicts can go to shooting galleries, so why shouldn’t we also give people beer?”
Others have called this Amsterdam initiative an “imaginative approach to the problem of anti-social behavior” that “demonstrates typical Dutch pragmatism which could be found shocking in other countries.” So if you think giving alcoholics alcohol is a bad thing, then maybe you should stop and think about your hatred of pragmatism.
Just to give some perspective to the long term effects of Amsterdam’s approach to its alcoholic population, the World Health Organization says harmful use of alcohol kills 2.5 million people every year.