German City To Pay Alcoholics In Beer For Cleaning Streets

05/14/2014 08:45 am ET | Updated Oct 01, 2014

A city in western Germany is looking to motivate unemployed alcoholics and drug addicts spending time on the streets to get back into the workforce. How? By paying them with beer in exchange for their work.

Organized by the charity Addict Support Essen, the initiative is designed to encourage volunteers to clean garbage of Essen's streets and will provide its participants with beer, food, medical care and some pocket money. The program is slated to start a yearlong trial in mid-June, The Local reports.

"The aim of the program is not to supply people with beer," the charity clarified in a statement, per The Local. "For the participants it is about a meaningful daily structure, feeling useful and learning a new way to behave."

Essen’s initiative is inspired by a similar program already in place in Amsterdam in which alcoholics are paid for a day of clean-up work with five beers, lunch, some rolling tobacco and about $13, according to NBC's "Today" show.

Opinions on these programs are mixed. Some are skeptical about whether it’s ethical to supply alcoholics with beer, while others say the initiatives help them stay busy and learn control.

"It would be nice if we could give the homeless a bit of their dignity back, when they're already at rock bottom," Sabine Zschaler, chairman of charity Homeless Support Ruhr and Lower Rhine, told German broadcaster ZDF of the Essen project, according to a translation by The Local. "But that's not going to happen if we pay them with beer."

A representative for Amsterdam’s clean-up initiative disagreed, telling German news outlet Der Spiegel that the beer would help the workers do their jobs.

"It works like giving heroin to addicts," Caspar Itz, spokesman for the Amsterdam-Oost borough's district government. "An addiction expert is always there and controls how much each individual is getting. ... With us, there's a fridge, and the fridge has a lock. And we decide when that lock is opened."

Echoing that sentiment, a 45-year-old volunteer for the Amsterdam clean-up initiative says the beer is a good incentive to work.

"I think I can speak for the group and say that if they didn't give us beers then we wouldn't come," the volunteer, named Frank, told the Agence France-Presse. "We need alcohol to function, that's the disadvantage of chronic alcoholism."

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