It is time to vaccinate people experiencing homelessness

-by Paul Dragon, CVOEO Executive Director

We need to vaccinate people experiencing homelessness – now. People experiencing homelessness are much more likely than the general population to have chronic medical conditions along with mental health and substance use conditions. In addition, homelessness is deeply traumatic. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) people experiencing homelessness for even a brief duration are often traumatized by the sudden loss of a home and by adjusting to conditions on the street or in a shelter. Some people living in homelessness, particularly women already have histories of trauma, including sexual, psychological, or physical abuse. Families experiencing homelessness, disproportionately headed by women, experience posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance use at much higher rates higher than the national average. Individuals and families experiencing homelessness are the most marginalized, isolated, and discriminated against. They are highly vulnerable to disease, violence and victimization, and re-traumatization is ever present.
The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportuning (CVOEO) is currently operating one of the State’s largest emergency housing programs along with a daytime warming center. We have witnessed that the trauma, loneliness and disconnection from community are further exasperated during this pandemic. Not only are people experiencing homelessness more susceptible to disease but the instability in housing leads to frequent movement and potential community spread particularly among other people experiencing homelessness. In addition, homelessness can be a barrier to attaining and keeping protective equipment and adhering to the many public health protocols.
According to the United Nations Charter, safe and affordable housing is a basic human right. It is our failure as a society to provide decent, affordable housing that has created homelessness which results in poor health outcomes and increased vulnerability during this pandemic. It is our responsibility to do all we can to protect people during this time including providing them with a vaccine. We often turn away from people who are homeless thinking there is some personal or perhaps moral failure in what we see. In fact, it is society that has failed them. Now it is time and our duty as a society during this pandemic to provide them with a vaccine and some measure of relief.