TODAY

TODAY   |  April 30, 2014

Alcoholics paid in beer to clean streets

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.

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>>> 7:43 with a program that gets people with serious alcohol addictions off the streets and puts them to work. so why is it controversial? well, they're paid in beer. nbc's katy tur explains.

>> reporter: it's 9:00 a.m . on the east side of amsterdam . and fred has just arrived at work. he, like all of his co-workers, is an alcoholic. these beers might as well be their morning coffee .

>> the first beer, i am shaking. one or two beers, it's over.

>> reporter: the men are part of an unusual social project, a partially government funded program to pay alcoholics to pick up litter with beer. five beers, two in the morning, two at lunch, and one at the end of their shift. that along with half a pack of rolling tobacco , about $13, and a hot lunch. the goal, to get them off the street where is they drink all day.

>> i have control over my life.

>> reporter: got it.

>> it's better.

>> reporter: and into a daily routine.

>> there's a reason to get up. they have contacts, fellowship, and they're not drunk here. they only get five beers, which they need to feel not ill.

>> reporter: to understand how a program like this would get started here, you have to understand amsterdam as a whole. this is a culture with very few taboos, where pretty much everything is out in the open. from legal sex for sale in the red light district , to legal marijuana at the coffee shops . the people of amsterdam have little to hide. even their home windows are rarely curtained. their problems, all up for discussion. so your mom died, your dad died.

>> brothers.

>> reporter: your two brothers died. and you wanted to forget everything. ramon spitz was sleeping on a train station floor before he joined the project. they all may still be drinking, but they claim it's a lot less than before. marco is etch tven trying to stop. do you think that this helped you stop?

>> yeah. gives a rhythm to the day.

>> reporter: a rhythm that doesn't just give them a chance to restore their city, but their pride. for today, katy tur, nbc news, amsterdam , the netherlands.

>> we've been sitting here talking about this. one question i think natalie had was, after the day of picking up litter, do they go home and are they allowed to just drink as much as they want then?

>> right. i guess you can monitor the five beers during the day, but it's when they go home, you can't.

>> i think it's incredibly thought-provoking.

>> it is.

>> if the outcome is they drink less, maybe that's good. but there's something odd about handing beer to alcoholics whose hands are shaking.

>> we all talk about abstinence for alcoholics here. it's interesting.

>> it's a disease and you have to somehow treat the