German Charity: Work for Beer

A controversial initiative plans to provide beer for homeless alcoholics as impetus to get back to work.


For some who like to overindulge on occasion, an alcoholic pick-me-up in the morning can be the difference between having a productive, enjoyable day and spending an entire Sunday moaning in bed (and not in a good way). The hair-of-the-dog approach is, of course, not condoned by most doctors, and as a “lifestyle choice,” it often has the dubious distinction of being included on those ominous “Signs You Are an Alcoholic” lists.

But what if you already are an alcoholic? What if you really can’t function without at least some booze in your system? Although going cold turkey might be the best approach for those who can afford to sequester themselves in some boutique Scottsdale clinic, addicts without means might be better off gradually weaning themselves off the sauce.

That’s the position taken by Addict Support Essen, a German charity that will start compensating homeless alcoholics and drug addicts in beer in exchange for three to six hours of street-cleaning work. The taxpayer-funded initiative has, unsurprisingly, drawn its share of criticism. Sabine Zschaler, chairman of Homeless Support Ruhr and Lower Rhine, told the German public broadcaster ZDF, “It would be nice if we could give the homeless a bit of their dignity back when they’re already at rock bottom. … But that’s not going to happen if we pay them with beer.” Nevertheless, as Addict Support spokesperson Barbel Marrziniak points out, “Some of them [the homeless] simply need the bottle of beer to become fit for work.”

Those behind the initiative have made clear that the beer is merely a means to an end—workers will also be paid 1.25 euros an hour—with the ultimate goal of helping those struggling with addiction gradually become functioning members of society.