Sandy Lambert, the program’s external liaison, sees continued success; replication in other communities
A key goal of the men’s health group, the DUDES Club (Downtown Urban Knights Defending Equality and Solidarity), is to connect men living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside with health care providers, especially men who may have fallen off the grid because of substance use issues.
The DUDES Club was borne of a community forum at which it was observed that while pathways were being made in women’s and children’s health in the Downtown Eastside, and necessarily so, there remained a lack of programs for men, who, like those other demographics, have their own specific health needs and challenges.
Now in its sixth year, the DUDES Club has made great inroads and its bi-weekly meetings attract big numbers, with sometimes as many as 100 men crowding into the small space at the headquarters of the Vancouver Native Health Society.
“The DUDES Club is changing how this population of men looks after their health,” says DUDES Club external liaison, Sandy Lambert. “As we know, men do not talk about their health as women do. They are not as likely to take themselves to the hospital. And as they age, they will have more health issues to deal with. Some of the men we work with, it is a big thing just to get them through those hospital doors. That in itself is a victory.”
Men of the DUDES Club have medical director and co-founder, Dr. Paul Gross, to discuss medical issues with; and Sandy Lambert and the program’s on-site elder, Henry Charles, to discuss spiritual issues with.
Part of the program’s power lies in the creation of a safe, comfortable environment where men can let their defenses down. It includes the calming presence of elders. And it involves sharing meals and hearing stories together. These and other dynamics come together to create a solidarity and camaraderie that the men respond to.
“Our approach to care is organic,” says Sandy. “That’s a big reason why it works. It’s peer-driven – from the topics discussed at meetings to the food that will be served, the men themselves are involved in all aspects of the club.”
As part of his external liaison role, Sandy is imagining this innovative program helping men in other communities.
“When we look to northern BC,” he says, “and especially First Nations communities, we don’t have men’s health programs like the DUDES Club. But bringing this program to other communities is something we can now consider because of the success it is seeing locally.”
The DUDES Club has “helped men to get themselves whole again,” which entails everything from overcoming substance use issues, reconnecting with their families or reconnecting with their cultures.
“It’s been amazing,” says Sandy. “Now we’re being asked, ‘How are you doing it,’ and ‘Can you come to us and present your findings,’ so we have really begun to see the potential of the DUDES Club model for implementation in other communities.”
Friends of St. Paul’s are encouraged to support programs like the Enhanced Patient Care Fund, which in turn helps to support the DUDES Club and many other innovative programs.