Three days with junkies Part II: Life at the community shelter

Last week we visited junkies on the streets of Aarhus; this week we look at their lives as community members at the local shelter

May 17th, 2012 8:00 am| by admin
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Welcome to the lives of drug addicts and the homeless in Aarhus. I recently spent time with a handful of incredible individuals over the course of three days at three different locations: a homeless man’s tent made from tarpaulin, cardboard, and wood; Nåleparken (Needle Park), the only public space in Aarhus where junkies can freely shoot up; and Værestedet i Jægergårdsgade, a shelter and community house.

For three days we spoke, drank coffee together and laughed. When they eventually became comfortable with my presence, they allowed me to photograph them, laying bare their suffering, strength and fleeting departures from sadness. A few of them also shared with me the very personal act of smoking or injecting heroin and other drugs – acts that many of them perform daily just to get by.

The result of my experience is a photo essay divided into two parts: one that depicts these people’s lives as defined by their addiction and homelessness, and one that shows their lives as community members at Værestedet. 

Through this dichotomy, these fringe members of society are brought to the foreground, revealing stories that are at times shocking and tragic, but always utterly raw and – though we often overlook or wilfully ignore it – human.

A hot lunch is served at 11:30am every day at Værestedet. The facilities also include bathrooms, showers and a laundry room that anyone can use and even provides free dog food for those with dogs.

The Værestedet store room contains supplies for drug users to administer their medication cleanly and safely: sterile needles, distilled water, cotton balls, plastic cups, alcohol wipes and other items. Users cannot take their drugs within the house, so they gather supplies from the store room and walk to the nearby Nåleparken.

As other members of Værestedet show off their tattoos, a junkie joins in the fun and pulls off his shirt to display his. 

A Værestedet member shakes hands with an opponent after losing a game of chess. Internet access, a television, table football, and a music room are also available to users of the house as sources of entertainment. 

Two members at Værestedet play billiards in the recreation room.  

Jane, 52, is a regular methadone user who used to work as a go-go dancer and prostitute. She’s been on the streets since the age of 17 and takes methadone on a weekly basis to manage her opioid dependency. “You wake up every day feeling so sick,” she said. “Then you take the methadone. Then you sweat, you sweat a lot, all over. Once you stop sweating, you feel normal again.”   A Værestedet junkie bids farewell, pulling a face to show his missing teeth.  NOTE: To see part one of this series, visit bit.ly/aarhusjunkies

Jennifer Tse is a photographer and journalist from Toronto, Canada. Currently she studies in the international multimedia journalism and photojournalism programmes at the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus. Always in search of a great story, adventure and breakfast, she has had her photography and writing published in various major outlets in Canada, Germany and Denmark. Visit pencilprism.com for more.

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