Government sponsored alcoholism is now keeping the streets of Amsterdam clean and tidy. Each morning at 9 a.m., alcoholics arrive at a Rainbow Group Center to begin work, removing litter from the streets and sidewalks, as well as from nearby Oosterpark. These workers ” take extended breaks for beer, cigarettes and a hot lunch, all provided free of charge,” before ending their workday at 3 p.m. So far local residents support the program. Since it began, “local police have received fewer reports of stabbings and muggings in the park.”
While the Dutch government does not fund the entire program, it is the primary sponsor. Critiques may complain that the government is not only enabling but fueling alcoholism. Proponents counter that the program offers meaning and purpose to its participants’ lives. They also point out the savings generated by fewer arrests exceeds the cost of providing people with beer, cigarettes, and food in exchange for their services.
What’s your take? Will this strategy attract unemployed alcoholics to Amsterdam just as the country’s decriminalization of marijuana has attracted pot users as a Dutch tourist industry? Or is it a creative, humane way to reduce both litter and panhandling in one fell swoop?