A German city is set to start a controversial project to pay alcohol and drug addicts to clean the streets in return for beer, tobacco, food and small amounts of cash.

Organisers said on Tuesday that social workers would closely oversee the project, dubbed "Pick Up", in a dilapidated area around the central railway station of the industrial western city of Essen.

A team of six people will sweep streets and collect rubbish in return for $1.50 an hour, a warm meal and three bottles of beer after their shift, as well as tobacco for smokers, reported the Die Welt newspaper.

The plan has drawn sharp criticism, with one aid group for the homeless labelling the "cheap labour" project dehumanising and asking why alcoholics should be given beer on the public tab.

The project managers, Suchthilfe Direkt, however argue the scheme aims to reintegrate into society the most severe addicts of multiple substances, usually hard drugs and alcohol. 

"The project participants are people who need to have a daily structure just to get back on their feet," its coordinator Oliver Balgar told the Bild newspaper.

The project is based on similar Dutch initiatives.

Its primary aim is "harm reduction" for people not yet able or willing to go fully abstinent, to discourage them from consuming harder alcohol and to bring them into closer contact with social and medical services.

Those taking part will be mostly long-term unemployed and heavily addicted people for whom therapies have failed, who have health problems and are "socially isolated and stigmatised", the group said in a statement.

Source: AFP