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Want to Work for Booze? Move to Amsterdam

A rather unusual government program tries to keep drunks off the streets by having them pick up trash in exchange for beer. 

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Nothing like a hard day's work.
Photo via Shutterstock

By Shawn Dwyer

12/06/13

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It’s a college student’s dream come true: Doing a minimum amount of work and getting paid with beer, food, and cigarettes. But instead of rowdy college kids, Amsterdam is rounding up the city’s chronic alcoholics and employing them in an effort to help beautify the city.

Spurred by complaints that homeless drunks were causing a nuisance in public parks, the Rainbow Foundation started the largely government-run program - funded by state subsidies and some private donations - that tries to keep Amsterdam’s homeless out of trouble by putting them back to work. “The aim is to keep them occupied, to get them doing something so they no longer cause trouble at the park,” said Gerrie Holterman, chief executive of Rainbow. Equipped with trash bags and orange vests, the homeless start work at 9:00am by receiving two cans of beer right off the bat and work till 3:30pm, all the while receiving more cans periodically throughout the day. They also get free lunch, tobacco, and an extra 10 Euros.

Of course, not everyone in Amsterdam is happy about the program. Conservative members of city council have derided Rainbow’s efforts as a waste of government spending and an appeasement toward the so-called “culture of tolerance.” But supporters of the program dismissed such opposition as nothing more than political pandering, while stating that there aren’t very many other options. Hans Wijnands, director of the Rainbow Foundation, wished that he could simply tell alcoholics to stop drinking, but “it doesn’t work,” he said. “It would be beautiful if they all stopped drinking, but that is not our main goal,” Wijnands explained. “You have to give people an alternative, to show them a path other than just sitting in the park and drinking themselves to death.”

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