About a year ago, a charity in Amsterdam began a project to employ alcoholics and pay them partially in beer. And according to the New York Times, it's apparently going great.

The program, which only recently began getting attention in the international press, employs out-of-work alcoholics to clean up litter on the city's streets. The Times describes the shift of one employee:

His workday begins unfailingly at 9 a.m. — with two cans of beer, a down payment on a salary paid mostly in alcohol. He gets two more cans at lunch and then another can or, if all goes smoothly, two to round off a productive day.... In addition to beer—the brand varies depending on which brewery offers the best price—each member of the cleaning team gets half a packet of rolling tobacco, free lunch and 10 euros a day, or about $13.55.

Although the first program of this kind was in Canada, it's well-suited to the Netherlands' famous disdain for zero-tolerance policies. It's certainly an approach employed in many countries with regard to other vices: the idea takes the same approach as methadone clinics, which provide a less-strong drug to serious heroin addicts on the road to recovery. If some of Amsterdam's alcoholics are working a full shift and drinking beer, it's that many fewer lying unemployed in the city's parks, polishing off bottles of hard liquor. In other words: it's not a cure, but it's a start.

The program obviously has its detractors, who accuse it both of enabling alcoholism and of using government money (where the charity that runs the program, called the Rainbow Foundation, gets most of its funding) to dole out beer. But the Rainbow Foundation claims all the beer money comes from its own coffers. Said the organization's director to the Times:

For the government, it is hard to say, "We buy beer for a particular group of people," because other people will say, "I would like some beer, too."

[image via AP]