Author: Menno Knol
The Woodstock Clinic in the Schilderswijk, The Hague has tried a different approach towards helping people overcome their addiction. They focus on integration in the neighborhood, activities and destigmatizing drug addiction and its victims.
Drugs in The Netherlands
The Netherlands is a welfare state wherein the Dutch government is responsible for the provision of most public
goods and services. It also takes a progressive stance on the use of drugs (Wiepking and Bekkers 2015). The Dutch Opium Law differentiates between two lists of drugs. List 1 contains all the types of drugs that are considered to have an unacceptable health and safety risk, while List 2 contains all the drugs that are considered to have an acceptable risk. In the Netherlands all drugs that are on the second list are legal to use (Jellinek 2020).
How does this progressive law influence the representation of people struggling with addiction in The Hague? In this regard, Woodstock, a shelter in Schilderswijk – the neighborhood with the highest poverty rate in the city of The Hague – presents an interesting case study. This shelter combines helping people with poverty, mental illnesses and drug abuse, while still allowing all of their residents to freely use drugs under the opium law (Parnassia 2020).
Woodstock is a shelter for people older than 45 years. This shelter provides people who have been dealing with drug abuse for many years with a safe place to live. Often, these people also suffer from mental health issues. Initiated by the Municipality of The Hague, the Woodstock shelter is part of a bigger plan to provide all the city’s 2000 homeless people with shelter. While in other shelters the use of drugs is forbidden, Woodstock actually allows its residents to use drugs in their own room (Schreuder 2010).
This concept raises two interesting questions: First, how has the representation and perception of drug addicts developed since the Woodstock shelter started? And second, how has this change in perception, together with allowing the residents to use drugs, influenced their addiction and circumstances of poverty?
The Woodstock Clinic in Schilderswijk
In the beginning, residents of the Schilderswijk were very hesitant about the shelter when the municipality announced the project. Citizens of the neighborhood campaigned against Woodstock, eventually forcing the municipality to make it a temporary project (Schreuder 2010). This reflects the perception of drug addicts being connected to illegal networks and causing trouble when living in a certain area (Cliffside Malibu 2020). Since the start of the project, this has completely changed. Currently, residents of the Schilderswijk are much more supportive of the clinic. In fact, there were even petitions held to ensure the shelter would not disappear (Schreuder 2010).
This drastic change in the opinions on the Woodstock shelter shows how the perception of drug addicts has changed. Residents of the Schilderswijk often visit the shelter on one of their special dinners or game days. It has become part of the community, and drug addicts living there are no longer perceived as criminals causing trouble for the neighborhood.
Furthermore, the tolerance of drug use in Woodstock actually helps their clients get out of poverty and drug addiction. Woodstock clearly treats its residents with a lot of dignity when it comes to drugs. Instead of treating people struggling with addiction like criminals that will only be able to improve their lives if they stop using drugs, Woodstock believes that their clients are smart and energetic people that should be kept busy (Wanders 2009). This treatment is much more beneficial since “focusing only on drugs and measuring success only by whether or not someone stays clean ignores the broader more complicated context of addiction, mental health, trauma, and the real or perceived lack of choices that may underlie problematic drug use” (Sekaran 2014). By keeping its residents busy with work and projects for the community, they are distracted from their addiction. They do things like cleaning the neighborhood or cooking a large dinner for the residents of the Schilderswijk. The shelter provides a very important mixture of work which helps people struggling with addiction get over their drug use, lots of interactions with the surrounding neighborhood and treating all
residents with dignity.
Cliffside Malibu (2020). “Society’s Perception of Addiction: Addicts Have a Moral Failing.” Cliffside Malibu. At https://www.cliffsidemalibu.com/2014/10/24/societys-perception-addiction-addicts-
Jellinek (2020). “Hoe werkt de Opiumwet?” Jellinek. At https://www.jellinek.nl/vraag-antwoord/hoe-werkt-de-opiumwet/.
Parnassia (2020). “Woodstock.” Parnassia. At https://www.parnassia.nl/onze-locaties/woodstock-den-haag.
Schreuder, A. (2010). “Blij met de verslaafde buurman in de Schilderswijk.” NRC. At https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2010/09/24/blij-met-de-verslaafde-buurman-
Sekaran, S. (2014). “People Who Use Drugs Need to Be Treated With Dignity.” HuffPost. At https://www.huffpost.com/entry/people-who-use-drugs-need_b_4733462.
Wanders, J. (2009). “Woodstock: opvanghuis voor oudere drugsgebruikers.” Volkskrant.nl. At https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/woodstock-opvanghuis-voor-oudere-drugsgebruikers~b09329c1/.
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