In a tiny fourth-floor room overlooking The Hague’s city center, a gray-haired man carefully plugged a small pipe with a ball of cocaine, lit up and drew a deep breath.
“This is real freedom,” 65-year-old William said as a billow of white smoke poured from his nostrils and wafted through his apartment at Woodstock, the only Dutch home for elderly junkies and other addicts.
The apartment block, flanked by a canal and a tram line, takes a unique approach to drug abuse by helping keep aging homeless people off the city’s streets and out of trouble with the law.
“I like it here. Here there is no police watching you,” William said as he rearranged the paraphernalia of his addiction on a small table: a pipe, a lighter, a mirror with traces of cocaine lines and an old credit card. “I can do what I want to do.”
His hard-luck story is similar to that of the 32 other “older” drug and alcohol-dependent residents, including three women, who live at Woodstock, a drab brown apartment block a stone’s throw from the city center.
After 33 years of hard living in Spain, where he picked up a cocaine habit while working in hospitality, William returned to the Netherlands two years ago, hoping to rebuild contact with his estranged family.
However, instead of enjoying a reunion, he was viciously attacked by two youths at a local homeless shelter, receiving a beating that cost him his left eye and which left part of his face paralyzed.
His other wounds healed, but William was still out on the street.
He eventually ended up at Woodstock’s doors and has been living there ever since.
Named after hippiedom’s most famous festival, Woodstock opened in December 2008 as a combined project between The Hague’s municipality and the local health provider Parnassia.
“We identified a great need in the city to help ‘older’ drug addicts, aged between 45 to as old as 70, who were homeless,” said Nils Hollenborg, the home’s manager and resident psychiatrist.
However, he stressed: “We are not here to try and rehabilitate our residents.”
“In fact, our criteria state you can only get into Woodstock if you’re over 45 and after a medical examination declares you are beyond rehabilitation,” Hollenborg said.
“What we do here is give people a roof over their heads, a stable home and something to eat for free — and we tolerate limited use of hard drugs,” he said.
Many of Woodstock’s residents also take prescription methadone, the synthetic drug used in programs around the world to treat opiate addiction, which like accommodation and food, is handed out for free.
However, alcohol and illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin — or cannabis, of which small amounts are officially tolerated by the Dutch government — have to be bought outside and off the street.
“Our approach to drug abuse, targeting this particular group of people, makes us unique in the Netherlands,” Hollenborg said.
The Woodstock home for aging addicts in many ways resembles other frail-care facilities in the Netherlands, although it has some special touches.
At the entrance hall, the occasional visitor is greeted by a life-sized statue of screen legend Humphrey Bogart standing guard.
Behind the reception desk, pop art prints of another Hollywood icon, Marilyn Monroe, smile down on a hall equipped with a pool table, a jukebox and a cage that houses exotic parrots.