Every Tuesday, Richard T., a peer facilitator, and the DUDES volunteers meet together at the Native Health Clinic in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, for what they call a ‘Think Tank’, to plan the menu and activities for the bi-weekly DUDES Club gathering that they organize for their peers. Richard and the volunteers identify as Aboriginal, and as survivors of the Downtown Eastside. They have each emerged from brutal addictions, demoralizing homelessness, and the loneliness of being isolated from their cultures, families, and personal health. While health, family, and community remain a struggle for them, they have made more than enough progress to feel as though it is their time to give back.
Every other Thursday, all the Vancouver DUDES come together for an afternoon of brotherhood, bingo, barbers, and to break bread together. Some just come for the free meal, some come for the health advice, some come for the friendship. Collectively, the group of DUDES have learned the power of getting connected to each other, and to information that can save or improve their lives. The Vancouver DUDES are joined by separate but parallel bi-weekly meetings in Prince George and Smithers, and by a half dozen other sites around BC who have begun using the DUDES model and toolkit to bring men together to talk about their health and the health of their communities.
The DUDES Club was established at Vancouver Native Health Society in 2010, and is now a proven model for Indigenous men’s health promotion that builds solidarity and brotherhood, enabling men to regain a sense of pride and purpose in their life. A three-year evaluation study conducted by Dr. Paul Gross and colleagues at UBC found that participants derived increasing benefits across the measured dimensions of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health, and found it a safe environment to connect and share. Indigenous men derive particular benefits from being a part of DUDES, including increased trust in people, social/peer support, and connection to heritage and culture. The study found that the mean age of the Dudes Club participants is 46.8 years, and that 64% experienced unstable housing in the past month, 56% were unemployed in the past six months, and 40% volunteer more than 10 hours a week. While over 58% of men have children, only 4.5% are currently living with their children. These men often carry with them intergenerational trauma related to the loss of or damage to their land, culture, family, language, and identity.
The DUDES opens with an Elder welcoming everyone, recognizing the Indigenous lands we are on, and blessing the space and the participants, both present and not. A guest from the Canadian Mental Health Association is introduced, who shares about ‘Safe Talk’ a Suicide Prevention workshop that they can join, which gets the DUDES talking to each other about people that they have lost, and how they wish they could have done more to help them. After a few rounds of Bingo, lots of jokes, laughter, grumbles, venting about challenges they are facing and systems they are up against, Richard T. announces to everyone that ‘the good doctor is in the house!’.
Dr. Gross takes a few minutes to honour the memories of two DUDES Club members who have passed away. Most recently, it was the cook for the club, who also was an active street worker helping to prevent Fentanyl overdoses. Dr. Gross and the DUDES speculate as to the cause of his death, and what they have heard leads them to believe that a heart attack from overwork may have contributed. This gets the whole crew talking about the Fentanyl crisis, and others begin sharing or reflecting silently on prevention strategies, personal loss and tragedy, and the scale of the epidemic that is disproportionately affecting their communities, as men, as Native men, as DTES residents, as people struggling below the poverty line in an increasingly expensive city. Dr. Gross facilitates a discussion with the DUDES around ways they can honor their peer’s legacy of fighting to save lives, and the ideas that come out are strong and inspired. We know that the struggles of daily life go on, and many DUDES are limited in their ability to get more involved, but the idea of a DUDES Club Street Squad emerges, walking the streets and alleys in their Club t-shirts, hats, and hoodies, cruising the streets and the alleys as overdose first responders and to spread awareness and knowledge.
With the DUDES Club, the hierarchy of the traditional medical model is flattened, and the healthcare providers who are involved prioritize cultural competence and safety, genuine connections, and support to help men navigate the healthcare system. The program is community-driven, highlights the importance of peer champions, and flips the paradigm of accessibility and help seeking.
Many of the DUDES in Vancouver have left the places they grew up, have moved away from their Nations in more rural parts of BC, and have come in search of better lives, forgetting, reconnection, escape, and opportunity. DUDES doesn’t provide all the answers, but there are glimmers of hope, inspiration, friendship, mutual support, and a new community being built. Perhaps most importantly, in remembering one of their DUDES Club members who has passed, the DUDES slowly but surely come to know that they too, one day, will be remembered and honoured when they pass on.
For more information, please contact us at :
Frank Cohn, MSW, DUDES Club Program Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 604-355-1480