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Chicago Has Vaccinated 2,200 People Working, Staying At Homeless Shelters

People experiencing homelessness have been uniquely vulnerable to the virus.

Bertha Arina receives her COVID-19 vaccine from Ilse Vega, nurse practitioner from Esperanza, in Chicago's Gage Park neighborhood on Feb. 19, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The city has administered more than 2,200 coronavirus vaccine shots to people working at and staying in shelters.

People experiencing homelessness have been uniquely vulnerable to the virus because they lack access to health care and safe housing, and because congregate facilities — like shelters — are more at risk for outbreaks.

To combat that, the city prioritized people who stay in and work at shelters during Phase 1B of its vaccination campaign, which began Jan. 25. Since then, the city has administered 2,253 shots of vaccine to people in that category, officials said Tuesday.

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

Constance Foster, a woman experiencing homelessness, said she received her first shot at Pacific Garden Mission a few weeks ago — and was excited to get her second, final shot Tuesday. She learned about the vaccines from doctors there and felt comfortable getting one because they answered her questions.

“I chose to take the vaccine because I want to protect myself from COVID,” Foster, who had COVID-19 in March, said at the news conference. “I know COVID can be a very serious disease, leading to hospitalization and long-term health consequences. I decided that, for me, it is better to be safe than sorry.”

Foster said she wanted to be protected from getting the virus again.

“Now that I have been vaccinated, I feel safer — yes!” she said, raising her hand.

The vaccinations are done through health care providers: Lawndale Christian Health Center has administered 892 of the shots, Heartland Alliance Health 861 and Haymarket 500, as of Feb. 18, according to health department data.

The city has taken others steps to help, like reaching out to people staying in encampments, providing testing resources to shelters and sending health care workers to temporary living facilities.

The health department is also working on longer-term approaches to help people who experience homelessness. The city has partnered with Lawndale Christian Health Center and Heartland Alliance Health to build Shelter-Based Service Teams that will provide health care to people at shelters, including behavioral health and primary care.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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