A special project in the town of Essen, Germany, is designed to engage alcoholics and drug addicts in cleaning up the city’s streets, giving them a chance to pick themselves up and rejoin society. The project is called ‘Pick-Up’, and it pays the participants with a small hourly wage, along with free beer!
Although the beer is meant to be an incentive, the amount given away is small, so it won’t really cause a lot of damage. “The beer is distributed on the individual needs of the participants,” read a fact sheet from the organisation that manages the project. “Not everyone gets beer. Only the participants who aren’t able to do their work without it.”
The statement also mentioned that “Pick-UP isn’t about just cleaning the streets. The project has nothing to do with exploiting people. The idea is to allow participants, who are not forced to take part, to contribute to society in a way they otherwise wouldn’t.”
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
“The project participants are people who need to have a daily structure just to get back to their feet,” added Oliver Balgar, project coordinator for Director Addiction Help.
The ambitious project has five participants so far – one of them is a recovering alcoholic named Jürgen. “I’m not doing this just for the beer,” he insisted. “I can find beer on my own. I can get drunk anytime I want. This is something that allows me to help the people around me, and it gives me a chance to give back to my city.”
“I just want to do something good. That’s all. You wouldn’t think it, but this is so hard for me,” he added.
Jürgen and the other participants work four hours a day – they change into orange cleaning suits at 10:30 am at Essen’s Addiction Help Center and start their first round, which lasts until lunchtime. After a quick meal they go out for their second route, followed by a discussion at the AHC. That’s when they receive their wages ($1.58 per hour) and if eligible, up to three bottles of beer.
In spite of the project’s noble intentions, it has come under severe criticism from local alcoholics. Modeled after a similar initiative in Amsterdam that was successful at reducing the amount of alcohol participants drink on a daily basis, ‘Pick-Up’ is yet to see the same kind of success in Germany.
“There’s no way this gig is going to reduce how much an alcoholic drinks,” said Essen resident Simone, who was hanging out and watching the participants at work. “People that hang out here are addicts, but it’s not only alcohol. Many of us are junkies. Heroin, cocaine, crystal, you name it, you’ll find people here that use it.”
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Disapproving of the project, she said: “I don’t have a job because I don’t want one, and I doubt that anybody would want to hire me in my current state. But I am going to take part in a charity scheme that pays me one euro (an hour) to make a fool of myself? I can get more money begging in 10 minutes. And, quite honestly, a beer costs 25 cents here. Am I going to sweep the streets for three beers? No chance.”
A few local politicians are also against the distribution of free beer. “I can well imagine that this project would work fine even if alcohol weren’t the main incentive,” said Karlheinz Endruschat, social affairs spokesman of Essen’s social Democrats. “The image of a bum and his bottle is not a stereotype we necessarily have to perpetuate to the people of our city.”
In recent years, public drinking has become a menace in the town of Essen. “It stinks outside the station all the time, when the smell wafts in from over there,” complained an elderly woman.
Interestingly, after his cleaning shift, Jürgen was spotted hanging around with Simone and a few other people at the station, drinking in public. When questioned, he came across as defensive and arrogant. “You people think this is easy, don’t you? That we just drink all day and watch the day go by. Well you know what, you’re damn wrong, and I’m happy I’m doing what I’m doing.”
“What should it matter to me what they think? I know I’m doing a good thing by picking up the streets. I’m going to drink either way. At least now I’ve got something to be proud of when my day is through,” he added.