Amsterdam Puts Alcoholics To Work - For Beer

Nothing else has worked, Dutch officials say

Netherlands Working for Beer
AP Photo/Peter DejongFred Schiphorst, an alcoholic and former construction worker, sets out on his daily route to collect litter in Amsterdam's eastern part.

Amsterdam officials are experimenting with a possible solution to the city's problem with chronic alcoholics: put them to work and pay them in beer.

The city is working with a charity in hopes that the initiative will improve the neighborhood and give alcoholics a chance to better their lives, reported the Associated Press. The workers pick up trash in exchange for a daily package that includes a meal, five beers, tobacco and 10 euros ($13.55). All they have to do is show up at 9am three days a week and make it through the morning and afternoon shifts.

The total worth of the package – $25.75 – is less than the Netherlands' minimum wage, but it's better than nothing for people with a crippling addiction and without job prospects. Members of the nonprofit Rainbow Group Foundation hope the positive approach will motivate their participants to rethink their lives and renew within them a sense of purpose.

Proud to be working
"I'm not proud of being an alcoholic, but I am proud to have a job again," Fred Schiphorst, one such beneficiary, told the New York Times. Before he was given the unusual opportunity, Schiphorst spent a decade out of work because of a back injury and his alcoholism.

Reactions to the program have been mixed in the Netherlands.

Critics of the pilot program say it enables the workers by funding their habit. Conservative members of the Amsterdam City Council dismissed what they called "the beer project" as a waste of government money and an attempt to further liberalize a city known for its extensive marijuana culture and famous red-light district, according to the NYT account.

Netherlands Working for Beer
AP Photo/Peter DejongRamon Mohamed Halim Smits, left, and Fred Schiphorst, participants in a pilot project for alcoholics, pause for a beer and cigarettes in their clubhouse in Amsterdam.
"For a lot of politicians it was really difficult to accept, 'So you are giving alcohol?'" Amsterdam East district mayor Fatima Elatik told AP. "No, I am giving people a sense of perspective, even a sense of belonging. A sense of feeling that they are OK and that we need them and that we validate them and we don't ostracize our people, because these are people that live in our district."

Cheaper than enforcement
The program's low cost is attractive compared with the price tag of previous efforts. Elatik, a member of the left-leaning Labor party, estimates that to date, the program has cost less than $130,000. Most of the budget came from donations, the rest from the city. The city's more oppressive (and less successful) solutions – increasing police patrols and temporarily banning alcohol in the park for all visitors – cost Amsterdam an annual $1.3 million.

Amsterdam has a history of implementing progressive fixes to social problems. The country legalized prostitution in the 1600s, and designated a red-light district to keep activities contained. It relaxed its stance on recreational marijuana use in the 1970s and instituted a program to distribute clean needles to heroin addicts in the 1980s and 1990s to curb the spread of HIV. The new strategy is reminiscent of the one used to help heroin addicts, who are given free needles and methadone in a controlled environment. The United States has similar programs for heroin addicts.

"I think now that we are only successful when we get them to drink less during the day and give them something to think about what they want to do with their lives," Holterman told AP. "This is a start to go toward other projects and maybe another kind of job."

The work-for-beer program already has a waiting list of eager candidates.

Free Beer for Amsterdam's Alcoholics

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genius!!! here in the states we give them free housing and money

October 23 2014 at 11:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I thought we would talk about the single person men urinals in the middle of the side walk. You can stop by relieve yourself keep carrying on a conversation and be aware of your surroundings. Or maybe run down the the red light district and see all the prostitutes sitting on their little chairs in the display windows, small city block. Feeling gamie you could visit the local chapter of the Hells Angels right there. Oh do not forget to go to the Hard Rock Cafe so you can pick up some dope to smoke, either in the bar or out side. You can get any thing you want at Alice's restaurant.

January 22 2014 at 9:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is absolutly barbaric, they should do like the great citizens of the United States are doing. When the alcoholics can't work the productive citizens need to be taxed so the poor alcoholics can be taken care of properly. They need their rent paid, get utilities paid, get food stamps and be reliant on welfare so they can survive without providing any support of themselves. Oh wait, my Michele moment is over, make them work for their support. Now I feel better but I also know that is not going to happen.

January 22 2014 at 9:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Violet's News

Great plan using alcoholics to clean the streets,
but they should offer the same work experience to
Congressmen in Washington, because doing
nothing and being idle does not serve the people
who elected them, and it's a great way to show
they can work and make us proud.

January 22 2014 at 6:20 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Awesome idea, hope it improves their lives!

January 22 2014 at 5:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Programs like this and America's old CCC should be implemented around the USA instead of the keeping our head in the sand approach.

January 22 2014 at 2:44 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

FIVE beers?!? Wow. But good for them for coming up with a way to make these folks more productive while filling a city need. Who knows? Maybe the regular work, food, beer, and tobacco will inspire some of them to look for "real" jobs. It will be interesting to check in with this program 5, 10 years down the road.

January 22 2014 at 2:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Awesome idea.

January 22 2014 at 1:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Finally, some realism pervades in this realistic society. Not saying you can't do something but not everyone will make the effort nor create the will to be what you may think they are capable of being. Circumstances may change but for now, just let them be. Think of it this way, how are cigarettes still allowed to be sold legally on the open market while its indubitably noted they cause cancer among other diseases, yet an avid booze drinker of another legally marketed substance, because of his/her boozed up predicament is unable to work a regular full-time job. We're all humans barely surviving in an animalistic society. Allow a another human being to build where they stand. Throw them a bone.

January 22 2014 at 1:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We need to take a few lessons from Amsterdam. Legalize prostitution: get rid of AIDS & help families stay together. Legalize marijuana: stop putting so many poor & working class in jail where they learn to be better criminals. AND save a ton of $$$!

January 22 2014 at 1:39 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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