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Ontario nonprofit helping unhoused individuals get access to COVID-19 vaccine

Posted at 8:16 AM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 09:56:56-04

ONTARIO, Oregon — Harold Gill sits patiently after receiving his COVID-19 vaccine shot at a vaccination clinic set up outside the Origins Faith Community Church building on Tuesday in Ontario.

Since late January, Gill has been staying at the temporary ‘tiny shelter,’ a resource for people experiencing homelessness.

“It’s a lot better (than) living on the streets, I lived on the street in Nevada," he said.

The shelter is managed through Community in Action, a non-profit that helps low-income families and alleviate poverty within the communities of Malheur and Harney counties.

Origins Faith Community Outreach Initiative, along with health staff from the Malheur County Health Department, set up a vaccine clinic to administer about 50 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

“I was all for it. I was waiting to have it done.” Gill said.

Heather Echeveste, Executive Director of Origins Faith Community Outreach Initiative, said before hosting the vaccination effort with a focus on inoculating unhoused individuals, volunteers have been going to some of the homeless encampments and providing vaccine information to address hesitancy among the homeless community.

“Educating on things that people were concern about like side effects,” Echeveste said. “Through education, we’ve been able to eliminate some of the reluctancy to actually participate and get vaccinated.”

Origins Faith Community have serves guests that don’t have means of communication or simply pass through to receive free meals or other services. The single-dose vaccine has been efficient to reach the homeless population.

“There was some concern about giving the first dose and then trying to round up those unhoused individuals to get the second dose to make sure they get the full vaccine. The one-shot dose is eliminating that issue and that concern,” Echeveste said.

Echeveste said their last point-in-time count to identify the number of unhoused people in Malheur County was more than 360.

“That’s a very high number for such a small area. If we can get 50 today, that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she said.