A German city has found a novel way to get unemployed alcoholics back into work, by employing them as street cleaners – and paying them in beer.
The ‘Pick-Up’ programme, being trialled in Essen, Germany insists the main focus isn’t about getting the streets clean, although that is an obvious side-effect, but rather it is about building confidence and self-esteem in certain members of society. Speaking to Deutsche Welle, alcoholic ‘Jurgen’ says of his new-found employment: “I’m not doing this just for the beer. I can find beer on my own. I can get drunk anytime I want. This is something that allows me to help the people around me, and it gives me a chance to give back to my city”.
In addition to the beer, the litter pickers are paid one Euro an hour. A press release by the addiction centre running the programme said: “The beer is distributed based on the individual needs of the participants… Not everyone gets beer. Only the participants who aren’t able to do their work without it”. Despite the low wage, the programme isn’t about exploiting alcoholics to do menial work, rather “The idea is to allow participants, who are not forced to take part, to contribute to society in a way they otherwise wouldn’t”.
Although those on the programme may enjoy it, one alcoholic who spoke to DW seemed unimpressed. ‘Simone’, who spends her days hanging around outside the city train station told the news agency: “I don’t have a job because I don’t want one, and I doubt that anybody would want to hire me in my current state. But am I going to take part in a charity scheme that pays me one euro [an hour] to make a fool of myself? I can get more money begging in 10 minutes. And, quite honestly, a beer costs 25 cents here. Am I going to sweep the streets for three beers? No chance.
“They assume we want to rejoin society so badly, that we are so utterly lost with our lot in life. The truth is: We have been severed from society, and that is just fine that way”.
The programme is based on a similar initiative in east Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The organisers, who work to get alcoholics and homeless off the streets are part-funded by the Dutch government, but insist that paying people who would otherwise be in trouble with beer is very cost effective. “If people are being arrested, it also costs society a lot of money”, said a spokesman. “We have tried everything else. Now this is the only thing that works. We might not make them better, but we are giving them a better quality of life and it’s better for the neighbourhood, they’re giving something back to society”.
After the first twelve months of the Amsterdam project, local police recorded a drop in stabbings and muggings at a formerly troubled park. One Dutch alcoholic said of his new-found self-respect: “They used to treat us like garbage – and now we are picking up their garbage, we are not the garbage anymore”.