As we enter (hopefully) the final phase of the COVID pandemic with vaccinations, it is unclear in many states if there is a plan to inoculate every resident of the state facing a housing emergency.
California has the nation’s largest homeless population and has yet to clearly define their plan to distribute the vaccine to the hundreds of thousand people experiencing homelessness, or frontline homeless services workers. The is not just an issue of reaching folks who are homeless. The narrow Federal definition of homelessness prevents many from being clearly defined as vulnerable.
The National Coalition for the Homeless is asking the California Department of Public Health to prioritize vaccinations for all those without a stable place to live, those living outside or in a shelter, and those who work in service to these folks.
While the statewide plan issued by the Department of Public Health makes some mention of homelessness, direction on how to vaccinate all people who do not have permanent housing is vague. There are huge numbers of people sleeping outside in California and no real plan to reach this difficult to serve population. In addition, it is unclear if those who were recently relocated into housing meet the definition of homeless. We are asking for California officials to provide a clear plan that local communities can implement that takes into account the diverse needs of all of those experiencing homelessness.
Very few states, in fact, have published comprehensive plans to get COVID vaccines to the entire population of people who are unhoused. We are urging our advocacy network throughout the United States to reach out to their state health departments to ask if there are detailed plans to vaccinate homeless people. We hope that the media begin to ask these questions as well. We would ask that these plans be published on the state health department websites so that they can be implemented on the local level.
The National Coalition for the Homeless is hearing mixed messages from social service providers and there is a great deal of confusion in the field about the vaccination program and how homeless people fit into the plans. Now, as the country prepares to vaccinate the population, in most states there is no sign yet that homeless people, those who serve homeless people, are a priority to access to the vaccine.
For those in California: Contact Dr. Tomás Aragón, the State Director of Public Health, at 516-553-1784. Tag @CApublicHealth in a tweet with the hashtag #VaccinateHomeless, or drop them a note on Facebook @capublichealth. “Please clarify when all homeless people, homeless and hunger social service providers (including those serving homeless people in permanent housing programs), throughout the state will be vaccinated.”
For those outside of California, please contact your state health department with a similar message to be made public.