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Dutch program pays alcoholics in beer to clean streets

April 30, 2014 at 10:27 AM ET

Video: In Amsterdam, a program partially funded by the government pays alcoholics with beer to pick up litter. The goal is to get them off the streets, where they drink all day. NBC’s Katy Tur reports.

Every morning at work in eastern Amsterdam, Fred Schiphorst downs a can of suds like others consume their first shot of caffeine.

“The first beer, I'm shaking,” he said, referring to his trembling hands. “When I [have] one or two beer, it's over.”

Schiphorst is an alcoholic, just like the rest of his colleagues in a program and social experiment funded in part by the government, in which employees pick up trash along the roads and get paid — in beer — for their work.

For Schiphorst, that means he will have had three beers by lunchtime. In addition to their five daily beers, employees get half a packet of rolling tobacco, about $13, and a free hot lunch.

The goal of the program is to get people with serious alcohol addictions off the streets, where they would be drinking all day, and provide them with work.

"There’s something to do. There’s a reason to get up. They have contact, fellowship and they're not drunk here,” said project leader Jeanette Van Der Noord. “They only get five beers, which they need to feel not ill."

Although the concept behind the program may be considered unusual by American standards, the project seems in line for Amsterdam, which has a culture with few social taboos. The city is home to Europe's best-known red-light district, where prostitution is legal, and coffee shops that sell marijuana.

Employee Ramon Spits said he was sleeping on a train station floor before he joined the program, which has helped him drink far less than he used to.

Schiphorst said the program also has helped him curb his addiction.  

“I have control of my life," he said. "It’s better."

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