The 'Fight Club' for Vancouver's DTES frontline workers
Published Friday, June 22, 2018 4:47PM PDT
At a boxing club on Keefer Street, in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, front line workers who spend their days helping some of the city's most vulnerable residents wind cotton wraps around their hands to prepare for a workout.
They're here for the Frontline Fight Club, a boxing class aimed at bringing together the people who see and feel the effects of the province's overdose crisis day in and day out. The goal is to work through the stress of their jobs so they can continue serving the community.
"The fentanyl poisonings that have been happening … there’s a lot of people passing. So the intensity builds in your body—the grief does, the injustice of it all. So it makes you want to punch," said Ashley Rose, who's a support worker in family social housing.
The club provides a valuable physical outlet as well as a sense of community.
"We don't even need to talk about anything," said Andrew Coombes, a youth outreach worker. "We can just punch bags, and pads and sweat."
The program is the brainchild of Anna Farrant, a former Insite worker. She spent three years working at Canada's first supervised injection site before pursuing her love of boxing full time by co-founding All-City Athletics.
While she worked on the front lines, she felt her body was taxed by the hardship she saw during her workday. And the stress didn't dissipate when she went home for the day. She said hearing of burnout among colleagues was common.
"Our bodies hold that stress. They hold the trauma of other people," she said.
But boxing was a huge relief for her, and now she's bringing it to others. She says frontline workers are essential, and hopes that by allowing them to take good care of themselves they can take better care of their clients.
Club members agree, saying the mental and physical benefits
are immeasurable—impacting both their personal and professional lives.
"In order to keep going to back to work, you need an open space. It’s very hard to witness people being put through the circumstances that they’re put through," said Rose.
Frontline Fight Club is collaboration between the Eastside Boxing Club and the Portland Hotel Society. It's one of several free social programs the fitness centre hosts.
Leigh Carter, the boxing club's community director, said knowing about the burnout facing workers in the midst of the opioid crisis made helping "kind of a no brainer."
Right now, there are two classes per week offered to front line workers free of charge.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Sarah MacDonald