As our neighbors experiencing homelessness struggle to survive and meet their basic needs each day, finding time to get a COVID-19 vaccination often falls to the wayside. While these individuals care deeply about their health, there are often just too many barriers in place for them to get even the most basic medical care. “It’s hard enough for those of us who are housed to coordinate getting a vaccination appointment, but when you are on the move all day and don’t have easy access to a phone, the internet, or transportation, that’s even more difficult,” says Andrew Volkers, Vaccination Shelter Outreach Worker at Preble Street Health Services.
Lack of shelter space and affordable housing are also among the systemic barriers impacting vaccination rates for people experiencing homelessness. Many of us can safely recover from any side effects in the comforts of our homes, but people who have no safe, stable place to recover may experience more hesitancy about getting vaccinated.
As a community, we have a health equity and public health imperative to focus COVID-19 resources on people experiencing homelessness and poverty, and Maine homeless services providers are at the ready. Thanks to a grant from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Preble Street is increasing efforts to ensure COVID-19 vaccine equity among our unhoused neighbors and has subcontracted Milestone Recovery, Knox County Coalition Hospitality House, and Mid-Coast Maine Homeless Shelter to do the same.
Vaccination Shelter Outreach Workers, like Andrew, are a key part of this initiative. “It’s centered around addressing COVID disparities among people experiencing homelessness,” Andrew states. “It’s building literature and education materials that are accessible. It’s setting up vaccine clinics in places we’re already serving clients. It’s getting people set-up for a quarantine shelter referral if needed, and coordinating transportation to appointments or shelters.”
Ensuring COVID-19 vaccine equity not only protects the individuals receiving the vaccine, but also strengthens the health infrastructure of our community.