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Amsterdam pays alcoholics in beer, tobacco to clean up city

Nov. 23, 2013 at 3:30 PM

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Officials in Amsterdam say a program that pays alcoholics in cash, tobacco and beer to clean the streets is helping the city learn how to fight addiction.

The program came about in response to complaints about a group of as many as 40 alcoholics loitering in Oosterpark, near the city center, making the park unsafe for visitors, Spiegel Online reported.

Caspar Itz, spokesman for the Oost district government, said the city tried banning alcohol in the park but began about a year ago -- with help from addiction experts -- to pay alcoholics $13.50 a day, along with half a pack of rolling tobacco and as many as five cans of beer to clean streets and parks.

"These people get something to do, a structured daily routine," Itz said. "And they're gone from the park."

So far, 19 people have sign up for the program.

Critics say the city is enabling the alcoholics.

"It certainly makes sense to give alcoholics a task, and thus a fixed daily structure," said Christa Merfert-Diete, spokeswoman for the German Central Office for Questions of Addiction. "But we don't see why you should give out tobacco and alcohol along with money."

Itz said Amsterdam residents are worried about whether it's ethical to provide beer to alcoholics, but the city has been learning how to fight addiction throughout the process of developing the program.

"It works like giving heroin to addicts," he said. "An addiction expert is always there and controls how much each individual is getting."

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