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Vaccinating the homeless comes with challenges

Virus Outbreak Vaccines
Posted at 4:03 PM, Feb 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 18:34:35-05

On any given winter day, on any other year in this country, being homeless is hard enough. But in the middle of a pandemic, this has been a winter like none other for those with no place to call home.

"Homeless populations are always challenged," said Larry Mayes with Catholic Charities, a non-profit which runs homeless shelters nationwide.

On this day, Larry, frontline workers in this Boston shelter and members of the homeless community started getting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I just want to be able to live and be safe," said Delores Waters. "Helping each other out, that's all it is about."

Across the country, the burden of vaccinating the homeless is falling on non-profits and shelters. Health officials say it's critical those who are homeless get the shot, because so many who live on the street often survive in tight-knit groups, giving the virus a perfect opportunity to spread.

"They are a tight-knit community, social distancing is not easy," said Mayes. "They rely on each other. It's critical we get as many as we can to get them vaccinated so that begins to spread out as a network."

But the process is not without challenges. Simply letting the homeless know about vaccination sites like this one is difficult. Even more challenging, making sure people come back to get their second shot.

"It's proactive, it's not waiting for them to come to use, we have to go to them," said Mayes. "And you have to keep going out."

This group and others across the country are relying on networks and non-profits who have already built up relationships with those who are homeless to encourage them to come in and get vaccinated.