London lost one of its street cleaners last week: following a £4.5 million lottery win, 42-year-old Joseph Whiting was able to down tools (or brushes) and focus on how to spend his sudden fortune. "I enjoy it, it isn't a bad job and I work with a good team. However, I won't miss getting up at four in the morning" were his reported words.
Over in Amsterdam, meanwhile, chronic alcoholics are queuing up to join street cleaning teams. A controversial government-funded project pays up to six cans of beer, half a packet of rolling tobacco, free lunch and 10 euros a day to those who take on the work of street cleaners. Individuals who are more accustomed to being rejected by society find that local residents are pleased to see them appearing in their yellow jackets, as this represents cleaner streets. Many residents are undoubtedly even happier to see people given a second chance in life at a time when they appear to be at their lowest ebb. Not everyone agrees with alcoholics being given beer as part of their wages but the project does appear to offer a lifeline and a place within rather than outside society. (Read more about the project in this article from The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/05/world/europe/amsterdam-has-a-deal-for-alcoholics-work-paid-in-beer.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
Who knows the personal stories of the street cleaners we pass each day in our towns and cities? Whatever their personal history might be, let’s not spurn them. Let’s make their job easier by using bins and let’s treat them with respect.
Street cleaners are not street furniture: they are human beings. How we treat them is a measure of our own citizenship.
One of the project’s most enthusiastic supporters is Fatima Elatik, district mayor of eastern Amsterdam. As a practicing Muslim who wears a head scarf, Ms. Elatik personally disapproves of alcohol but says she believes that alcoholics “cannot be just ostracized” and told to shape up. It is better, she said, to give them something to do and restrict their drinking to a limited amount of beer with no hard alcohol.