How Dayton-area homeless shelters and public health agencies are helping bridge the homeless vaccination gap

By Charisse Ponder

The effort of vaccinating people in the Dayton area is presenting the challenge of vaccinating vulnerable populations. Let’s take a look at how Dayton-area homeless shelters and public health agencies are working to vaccinate homeless people.

When vaccines became available in the Dayton area, Jessica Jenkins, assistant director of human services, planning and development for Montgomery County, said the county and Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County were proactive in providing access for vulnerable populations.

“We have been working [with Public Health] really since January when the vaccine became available in our community, thinking about how we might coordinate access to the vaccine for not only shelter and homeless individuals, but as well as the staff that serve them,” she said.

The two organizations began visiting homeless shelters and setting up mobile vaccination clinics in April. Dan Suffoletto, a spokesperson for Public Health, said seven trips have been made so far to St. Vincent de Paul’s homeless shelters that vaccinated 225 individuals. He emphasizes that mobile vaccination clinics were successful in meeting the needs of not just the homeless, but everyone in the community.

“Everything is about access and getting as many people vaccinated as possible,” said Suffoletto.

He also mentioned plans for Public Health to visit neighborhoods to reach people not going to shelters.

Another organization that helps provide local resources to homeless people is United Way of the Greater Dayton Area.

Tracy Sibbing, United Way’s vice president of community impact, said their mission is beyond making annual financial investments in local homeless shelters.

“We spend more time trying to prevent people from going into the system,” she said.

That prevention has happened through their rapid re-housing services, which quickly get those on the brink of homelessness back into housing. United Way also directs those currently experiencing homelessness to the shelter that best fits their needs and to Public Health for vaccination resources.

At Daybreak Dayton, medical interns visit their shelter to help answer questions and inform homeless youth who are vaccine hesitant. Cheli Curran, CEO of Daybreak Dayton, said they encourage and help their youth through the vaccination process.

Factors like mental health issues and fears of needles and side effects can further complicate vaccinating homeless youth. She said they may not see getting vaccinated as a top priority since they're also dealing with other issues like finding housing and employment, but stressed that Daybreak is there for support when they get vaccinated and deal with potential side effects.

“But we support them in that too. If that does happen, ‘We're here for you. We have stuff that you'll need to take care of yourself, and we'll help you as much as possible,’” said Curran.

Case managers at YWCA Dayton serve as resource connectors for homeless women seeking to get vaccinated. The YWCA has coordinated with Public Health this year to provide mobile vaccination clinics and on-site COVID-19 testing.

Fewer documentation requirements have made vaccinations more accessible, which has been especially helpful considering a lot of women the YWCA helps tend to not have the needed identification.

Toni Morgan, associate director of housing the YWCA, said that not having documentation is common for people at their shelter coming out of crisis.

“Because with domestic violence that’s normal for them to walk away without anything so we’re kind of used to that and we know where to direct them to," she said. "But it is a huge issue in the homeless population in general of them not having their documents."

The YWCA offers additional assistance to help their clients get vaccinated by issuing RTA bus passes and helping the disabled coordinate transportation through Rideshare.

Visit vaccines.gov or text your ZIP code to GETVAX (438829) to find vaccination sites near you.


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