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Emille Van Oosterzee sits in his room at HVO De-Aak. Diagnosed with HIV in 1996, he has lived in government housing for 14 years. He says, "Moving into HVO was like a 100 kilos was taken off my shoulders. It gave me the chance to reflect on my life and on the things I have done wrong."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

The entry way to Emille Van Oosterzee's room. When talking about his addiction, Emille, 60, says, "Now that I've been asleep for so long, I don't think I can wake up anymore... to wake up and try." He lost the will to take care of himself and intends to live at the nursing home for the rest of his life.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Hensley Michiel, 51, prepares a hit of crack in his room. Diagnosed with HIV in 1994, he was in poor health and near death before moving into the nursing facility. He has been using heavy drugs for 28 years.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Marzouz "Mo" Mormed, front, consoles himself after returning from the funeral of a close friend, Vera Van Werven, 51. Vera had recently moved out of the nursing home into an apartment, where she died of an overdose.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Emille Van Oosterzee smokes crack in his room. Although the residents of HVO De-Aak are allowed to use drugs and drink alcohol in their rooms, the drugs are not provided by the nursing facility.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Diana Vorstenbosch, 51, left, and Emille Van Oosterzee, 60, sit in the common area that doubles as a living room and dining room at HVO-De Aak. They were in the same drug scene when they were younger and have known each other for more than 20 years.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Wilma Harteveld, 49, sits alone in her room. Wilma moved into HVO after she was diagnosed with cancer. Her addiction began when she was 11 years old, after her stepfather injected her with morphine in order to rape her.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Bart Koelewijn, 49, takes his morning shower. Bart lived on the street for 10 years before moving into HVO-De Aak. The nursing home offers him stability and a quality of life he has not had in a long time.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Emille Van Oosterzee, 60, and a friend (name withheld) share a laugh. Emille says it's hard to know whom to trust when living with other addicts, but several of the residents have a least one other person they depend on.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

A bedside table is littered with random drug paraphernalia.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Hensley Michiel, 51, smokes crack cocaine in his room at HVO-De Aak. He has lived at the nursing home for almost two years and hopes to live there for the rest of his life. He is worried that he will die if he leaves.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Marzouz "Mo" Mormed injects himself with insulin under the supervision of the nursing staff. Many of the residents have serious health conditions that must be monitored daily.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Hensley Michiel waits to use an ATM before meeting a local drug dealer. Being one of the more mobile residents and a natural hustler, Hensley makes the run several times a day.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Hensley Michiel sits alone in his room at HVO De-Aak, a nursing home for homeless and drug-addicted people on the outskirts of Amsterdam.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Margrid "Margreet" Jansen, 51, sits in a haze of drug smoke. Margreet says she was drawn to the exciting and lucrative life of the drug world. She started shooting heroin when she was 15.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Margaret Van Toorn, 50, returns to her room after receiving her night medication from the nurses station down the hall. Supported by the Dutch government, the nursing facility offers 24-hour care and a home for people who have no place else to go.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Marzouz "Mo" Mormed, 36, center, is the only resident to attended the funeral of Vera Van Werven, 51. She was buried in a grave provided for drug users by the Drugspastoraat Amserdam, a nonprofit organization.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Emille Van Oosterzee has had a difficult time accepting that he is HIV-positive. He is angry at himself because he thought he was too smart and careful to become infected. After seeing a photo of himself, he asks, "What has happened to me? I look so old."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

Hensley Michiel smokes a crack and heroin mixture in his room. He began free-basing in 1982 when he was an accountant in his home country of Curacao. He says he was hooked from that day. "When the devil catches you, it's over. The devil is always standing on the corner looking for victims. He's gonna take you to hell."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

A nursing home resident looks out the window on a warm spring day. The residents spend most of the day alone in their rooms drinking, doing drugs, sleeping and watching TV. Their addict lifestyle has isolated many of them from friends and family.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Angela Shoemaker

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Freelance photojournalist Angela Shoemaker recently completed a documentary project about HVO De-Aak in Amsterdam, one of several retirement homes across the Netherlands designed to help the country’s aging drug addicts. Shoemaker, who’s work at the 2010 Eddie Adams Workshop garnered her a one-week internship at the Los Angeles Times, discussed her project with Times editors during a visit to our offices recently.

Q: Why did you choose this topic, and what was your goal?

A: After my previous project fell through, I started researching new story ideas and decided to work on a project related to Dutch drug policies. The Netherlands is known for having a more open approach to drug use, and I was looking for a unique story to tell that could only be told in the Netherlands. I started with several different aspects related to Dutch drug policy but ended up focusing the project entirely at the nursing home because it was so unexpected.

Q: How were you able to fund the project?

A: I was awarded a Fulbright grant to work on the project. The Fulbright is a grant funded by the State Department in partnership with participating countries to promote international understanding through learning.

Q: When did you start the project?

A: I started the project in the spring of 2010 after working on a different project for several months that fell through. I worked on the project over a span of about three months, from March until May of 2010.

Q: Was it difficult gaining access to the facility?

A: Access to the facility was granted over several visits and meeting with different residents who were willing to let me photograph them. If the residents gave me permission, then the nursing home was fine with me being there. I ended up having fairly free access within the nursing home, and over time several of the residents became more willing to let me follow them and photograph their daily lives.

Q: Was it difficult finding subjects willing to be photographed?

A: It wasn’t difficult finding several people who would let me photograph them. The difficulty came from the different moods of the individuals; how they were feeling that day would determine whether they would grant me access. So the day’s shoot was pretty uneventful most days with little windows of time when I was able to make progress. So I would bounce around and check on different people to see if they were feeling up to having me around. Having several folks to work with made it more likely that I would find someone who was interested in letting me photograph that day.

Q: What was the most difficult challenge you encountered?

A: Waiting a long time for something new to happen. Every day at the nursing home was very similar to the day before, so it was a challenge to make new and interesting images. There are several holes in the project that I just wasn’t able to shoot because it didn’t happen in the time I was there.

Q: What surprised you the most while working on this project?

A: I was shooting this project during the healthcare debate that was happening in the U.S. It was interesting watching the debate in the Netherlands, which has socialized healthcare, and seeing the response of the Dutch people. I remember one of the nursing home residents asking me whether it was true that the U.S., which is such a wealthy and powerful country, really let citizens die because they didn’t have access to healthcare. It was such a stark contrast to their own experiences. I would ask the nursing staff and Dutch friends what their thoughts were on this nursing home for drug addicts, sponsored by tax dollars, that allowed them to continue using while still having access to healthcare and government benefits. Consistently the answer was that they were glad the people were being cared for and getting the help they needed. They saw it as the government’s responsibility to take care of its citizens and that all people deserved to live a dignified life regardless of their life choices.

Q: What did you learn during your time at the home?

A: When you hear that people are given care (medicine, food, shelter, etc.) and allowed to continue using drugs, it sounds like a pretty amazing life, but in truth no one would want this kind of life. It’s a form of self-imposed imprisonment that is truly tragic.

Q: Do you have plans to continue documenting this story?

A: I would really like the opportunity to go back and check in with the people at the nursing home and continue telling their stories. There are so many images I would still like to make.

Q: What other projects are you working on or hope to work on in the future?

A: The next project I hope to work on focuses on the experiences of returning female veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Angela Shoemaker is a freelance photojournalist and multimedia producer currently based in Louisville, Ky. Shoemaker received a bachelor’s degree in photography from the University of Louisville and holds a master’s in photography from Ohio University. View more projects by Shoemaker.


  1. September 22, 2011, 4:38 pm

    ya, these genisus will approve the truth against themselves…sure

    By: youarefkgstopid
  2. September 23, 2011, 11:16 am

    These addicts do not fund drug cartels or dealers. They do not commit crimes against citizens. They do not sell to children

    They often suffer from mental illnesses that emerged before any drug was used. They often have been tragically abused as children.

    In the US they are about one person in a thousand. The Dutch treat them as unfortunate humans while in the US we put them in pricson at far greater cost to society.

  3. October 3, 2014, 6:09 pm

    I would like to know if Emile van Oosterzee was born 2 Oct 1950 and if his full neme is Emile Johan van Oosterzee. I f so I knew his mother who just past awya Aug 8 2914

  4. June 26, 2015, 11:33 am

    efore you get into the walls of nursing education, you need to find out which nursing school truly meets your needs.

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