In countries where interest in harm reduction interventions is growing, the concept of a fully integrated one-stop-shop of services catering to the well-being of PWUD without imposing sanctions could be very interesting. Mainliner Monica Carriere visited such a centre in the Netherlands.
“Being seen and treated as a person with rights – before seeing only the drug use – has resulted in healthier, higher functioning members of society”, Monica observed.
In the city centre of Apeldoorn, which is 100 kilometres outside of Amsterdam, there is a unique organisation called Omnizorg which houses services for people who use drugs (PWUD) who are homeless or have a combination of issues.
What started out as 3 organisations working with PWUD merged into one organisation under one roof. Omnizorg believes that working and participating in society are important preconditions to improved health, and integrates this in its programmes.
Omnizorg provides a homeless shelter, medical care and permanent housing for local PWUD. The homeless shelter provides basic BBB (bed, bath, bread) for a low price. On site, there are showers and toilets, laundry facilities, a cafe and an atelier where people can put their artistic talents to use. There is also the option to register for on-site permanent housing in a supported living environment.
Clients of Omnizorg are not allowed to use drugs or drink alcohol in the sleeping chambers but they are welcome to use in communal ‘user’s rooms’ which are open to all registered clients. There is an alcohol user room and a communal user room where PWUD can snort, smoke or inject their drugs in safety. A needle exchange programme and methadone programme are also offered here.
Clients can speak with a social worker, nurse, doctor, housing authority, welfare agent or other helping professionals. The most common request from PWUD when they first arrive is to meet with someone to arrange housing – this is often their most immediate need.
Omnizorg also offers a government funded project in which PWUD are provided free synthetic heroin 3x per day on the condition that they use at the centre, and under the supervision of trained health care professionals.
What the health professionals have observed is that, despite drug use not being reduced, the well-being of PWUD has substantially improved. This can likely be attributed to having a safe place to use, which creates consistency and stability in their life thereby positively impacting their health.