City partners with shelters to vaccinate homeless residents

As the city reaches the lowest COVID-19 positivity rate since the pandemic’s early days, it has prioritized vaccinating some of its most vulnerable residents, including those experiencing homelessness.

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Dr. Alex Porte, Family Physician for Lawndale Christian Health Center administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday to a resident.

Dr. Alex Porte, family physician for Lawndale Christian Health Center, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday to a resident who has been at Pacific Garden Mission for two years.

Mengshin Lin/Sun-Times

Thanks to partnerships with the Chicago Department of Public Health, distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to homeless shelters has become a citywide priority.

Over 2,200 initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to homeless residents and shelter staff across the city, according to city officials Tuesday afternoon at Pacific Garden Mission, a homeless shelter in the Near West Side.

“We want people experiencing homelessness to know that they are a priority for the city and their health matters,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

“We want people experiencing homelessness to know that they are a priority for the city and their health matters,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, on Tuesday at Pacific Garden Mission.

“We want people experiencing homelessness to know that they are a priority for the city and their health matters,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, on Tuesday at Pacific Garden Mission.

Mengshin Lin/Sun-Times

Pacific Garden Mission has vaccinated 180 guests and staff, according to Dr. Alex Porte, a family physician for Lawndale Christian Health Center. Fifty-six percent of those who have received at least the first dose of the vaccine at the shelter are Black, and overall, 42% of guests and staff have gotten the shot. Porte said some guests and staff would receive the second dose of the vaccine Tuesday, with the first dose also available to “anyone who would like it.”

Constance Foster, a resident at Pacific Garden Mission, said she received her first shot at the shelter a few weeks ago. The doctors there answered her questions about the vaccine, which she said made her feel comfortable getting the shot.

When Foster had COVID-19 back in March, she said her case was mild. But she said she knows how serious the disease can be, leading to hospitalization and long-term health problems — which is why she wants to be protected from contracting COVID-19 a second time.

“I decided that, for me, it is better to be safe than sorry,” Foster said. “Now that I have been vaccinated, I feel safer.”

Mary Tornabene, a nurse practitioner at Heartland Alliance Health, said Chicago’s homeless shelter vaccination plan is exactly what agencies that provide health services to homeless people are asking for nationwide.

The city has provided every homeless shelter with vaccines and a “full suite” of health services, according to Tornabene. That includes primary care, behavioral health care, treatment for substance abuse disorders and more, she said.

“This is the gold standard that cities across the countries have been trying to achieve for decades,” Tornabene said. “I can’t stress enough how remarkable this is, especially during the time of a pandemic.”

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