The City of Philadelphia is working hard to make sure that all of our most vulnerable neighbors have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. The Philadelphia Vaccine Advisory Committee identified people living in congregate settings such as homeless shelters, recovery houses, safe havens, and Journey of HOPE treatment programs, as a priority.

The Health Department has been working side by side with both the City’s Office of Homeless Services (OHS) and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) on how we can best to reach and engage people experiencing homelessness to give them easy access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Getting vaccine into settings for individuals experiencing homelessness

The City has been surveying shelters, transitional housing programs, recovery homes, and other sites to gauge their interest in the COVID-19 vaccine and inform the best way to make it accessible to people experiencing homelessness. Based on their input, we have paired homeless service programs with vaccine providers such as the Health Department’s mobile vaccine team, the federal Pharmacy Partnership, Project Home’s Hub of Hope, and federally qualified health centers. The Health Department has also organized vaccination clinics at shelters, safe havens and recovery housing that have the capacity to host such events. We are also giving residents information about how they can take advantage of the Health Department mass vaccine clinics, the Black Doctor’s COVID-19 Consortium, and other options available throughout the community.

Outreach and education

People experiencing homelessness have just as many concerns and questions about the COVID-19 vaccine as anyone else, so it’s important they get the chance to learn about it and decide if they want to be vaccinated.

The Health Department is working with OHS and DBHIDS to provide in-person and virtual question-and-answer sessions for residents and staff. While staff are being given information to help them make a choice about the vaccine, they’re also being given information to help residents make an informed decision. OHS is scheduling monthly community town halls with subject matter experts and testimonials for its network.

In addition, OHS is implementing an innovative outreach program called Vaccine Ambassadors. Vaccine Ambassadors are paid positions for people with lived experience of homelessness who are trained through the Philly Counts Vaccine Champions program to teach others about the vaccine. They’ll use that training and their own experience with the vaccine to answer questions and encourage people experiencing homelessness to get vaccinated.

People living on the street

The City has a goal of vaccinating everyone in Philadelphia, whether or not they live in a house, shelter, or are completely unsheltered. The Health Department, OHS, and DBHIDS are exploring how best to engage people who are unsheltered. We are working on outreach efforts to provide information and gauge interest in the vaccine. For example, we are exploring providing vaccine access via Step up to the Plate, the COVID-related outdoor meal program and providing vaccines at other daytime drop-in centers like the Hub of Hope and Prevention Point. As vaccine supply grows, especially the one dose vaccines, we look forward to expanding opportunities for those living unsheltered to get vaccinated from COVID-19 as well.