At first glance, 449 East Hastings is just one of the many older buildings in the Downtown Eastside. But it gets pretty lively every other Thursday when the DUDES Club—short for Downtown Urban Knights Defending Equality and Solidarity—holds its regular meetings. Fifty or 60 men, mostly aboriginal, have been going there regularly for the past five years to hang out, play a few rounds of bingo, enjoy a good meal, maybe get a free haircut—and talk about almost any health issue under the sun.
The club is a community outreach project of the Vancouver Native Health Society, in collaboration with the Movember-funded Men’s Depression and Suicide Network at UBC. According to its medical director and UBC clinical assistant professor Paul Gross, the appeal of the club is that it creates a safe, supportive place for men to talk about health, both physical and mental.
What issues do these men face?
The story of our guys is the story of the Downtown Eastside: people having trouble accessing social services, dealing with the overlapping issues of poverty, lack of food security and safe housing. They face multiple health issues; they live on the margins of society. For many, there is the added challenge of living as an aboriginal man.
How does the club help?
A lot of men in this neighbourhood feel isolated and lonely. The club builds a supportive community among them. With trust in place, the men really start to open up and that’s where the learning and some of the healing happens when the guys really support each other. We’ve had men share stories of sexual abuse in front of 50 other guys and that takes a lot of trust within a group.
Men generally don’t like to talk about their health. By providing an accepting, informal setting, the club draws them out and they can then connect with the health services they need, like social workers, health providers and counsellors.
If they’re looking for a deeper connection to their language and heritage, they can find that too, with the support of Musqueam Elder Henry Charles, who is at every gathering.
What’s next for the club?
With support from the Movember Foundation and the Men’s Depression and Suicide Network at UBC led by John Oliffe and John Ogrodniczuk, we are evaluating the program over the next three years to find ways to improve it.
Three new sites have been rolled out following the DUDES Club model in northern B.C.: in Prince George, Smithers and Moricetown. We’ll be supporting and tracking their development over the 18 months. We’re also developing a toolkit to guide people interested in adapting our model to their setting.
This August, we’re putting on our fourth annual men’s health fair, which typically draws between 100 to 150 men from the neighbourhood. We’ll have screening stations for oral cancer, cirrhosis, prostate, blood pressure, diabetes and STDs. At the end we’ll have a big feast. Everyone is welcome to join the party.