by Christien van den Brink
THE HAGUE, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -A volunteer organization in Amsterdam has found a new, unorthodox method to deal with alcohol addicts causing trouble in public parks, by providing beer in exchange for cleaning public spaces.
It is 9 a.m. and Tom can't wait to have another beer. Tom is one of the first alcohol addicts today who gather at the community center for another day of work. And while most workdays in the Netherlands start with a fine cup of coffee, he and the others team members start their day of work with a can of tepid beer.
Tom a member of the special cleaning force composed of 19 alcohol addicts. While most of them used to cause trouble in the neighborhood by being publicly drunk and shout at people, now they pick up the rubbish from the bushes. The reward for their public service is beer.
"That cupboard over there is our treasury," Tom says while pointing at the large cupboard behind the round table. The storeroom is ceiling-stuffed with beers and Tom impatiently gazes at the six-packs piled up to the top.
"Here you are," team leader Gerrie says, distributing one can for each worker in the room, while accurately ticking off the names on the list.
The rather unusual project started a year ago. The municipality of Amsterdam East District announced to take on measures to put a hold to the nuisance caused by a group of alcohol addicts spending their days at the public parks.
Volunteer organization De Regenboog Groep developed a method to provide the troublemakers with a filled day-schedule involving the cleaning of public space. In exchange for their work, they get 5 cans of beers, a warm meal, a tobacco-pack and 10 euros for each day's work.
"Street corner workers have tried everything to reach these people, but nothing worked. With this project we can finally provide a day structure to a group of problematic drinkers," Gerrie told Xinhua.
In the Netherlands there are around 82.000 alcohol addicts, according to the latest figures provided by the Trimbos Institute. Yearly close to 30.000 people with an alcohol problem are treated.
The Dutch have a sound network of professional treatment facilities for problem drinkers. The emphasis is on early intervention and outpatient treatment. But unfortunately these rehabilitation programs don't have an effect on everybody. A few of these problematic alcohol consumers have received treatment after treatment, but nothing has seemed to work.
Despite the potentially lethal damage that heavy drinking does to the body-including cancer, heart problems, and liver disease-the social consequences can be just as devastating. Alcoholics and alcohol abusers are much more likely to get divorced, have problems with domestic violence, struggle with unemployment, and live in poverty.
Most participants have experience living on the street and many of them have serious health issues. So giving alcohol does not sound like a responsible thing to do in the first place. But Gerry claims their method is effective.
"We have been doing this for a year now and I clearly see a positive change. If they would not work on this project, they would start drinking first thing in the morning and they would drink continuously during the day," she explained, adding: "Now they have to drink in a more controlled way. Besides, they eat more healthily and we give them a reason to get out of bed in the morning."
Coen and Tom roll their tobacco while zipping their beers. At 10.30 they need to leave the community center to do their duty. Packed with a refuse bag and a stick they will stroll around the area in search for rubble and refuse.
The 48-year old Rene has been involved in the project since the beginning. He has been drinking since he was twelve. The reasons for his addiction he blames on a 'difficult youth, but he doesn't 'want to dwell on too much about it.' The project has brought some small changes in Rene's life.
"The first thing I did in the morning was going to the supermarket to buy beer. But now I work until 3.30 in the afternoon. So we drink considerably less during the three days in the week that we work. To me the project is a big success," Rene told Xinhua.
Another positive effect of the project is that passers-by start to thank the workers for cleaning up the neighbourhood, which adds weight to building their confidence.
But aside from all these positive elements, no one has completely banned drinking.
Gerrie realizes that the most ideal scenario for 'her' men would be to stop drinking completely, "but I don't think they are ready in their minds to turn their lives around.'
"This project aims to give them a normal day rhythm and offers them the hope that one day they will be ready to stop drinking for good," Gerry told Xinhua.
In the meantime, the project has brought Rene plenty of other things. "Together with my group I form a solid team, so my social live has been given a boost. My days are different now, I don't drink all day in the park, it has really given my days more structure and meaning," Rene said.