WILMINGTON –– “Stay-at-home” or “safer-at-home” orders never worked for the homeless.
Through 2020 and into 2021, people experiencing homelessness have been some of the most susceptible to catching Covid-19. With many sheltered in congregate-living settings or in poor conditions, they’ve had few places to hide from the virus.
Friday, some of Wilmington’s unsheltered community will line up for their Covid-19 vaccines and be considered protected within two weeks.
The Salvation Army of the Cape Fear is hosting the vaccination outreach event from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on April 9 at its Center of Hope, located at 820 N. 2nd St. No appointment is required. There are 100 doses available, according to New Hanover County. On Thursday, 30 doses were administered at Good Shepard.
“The idea is to provide as many vaccinations as possible, so we can provide the best assistance and services and health to this particular population,” said Major Mark Craddock, corps officer with the Salvation Army.
Patients at the event will receive the Johnson & Johnson, the only approved single-shot vaccine.
Major Craddock said a one-time dose is ideal for the homeless population as it doesn’t call for tracking down patients weeks later to schedule a second shot.
“It’s much more effective and efficient, specifically for this population,” Craddock said.
People experiencing homelessness received eligibility for the Covid-19 vaccine on Mar. 17, and staff of homeless services gained eligibility Mar. 3. As of Wednesday, anyone 16 and up in North Carolina can access a vaccine.
Serving a community with limited access to phones or the Internet, Salvation Army has relied on word-of-mouth, fliers and visiting feeding sites to spread awareness of its upcoming event. Craddock said the homeless community’s perception of the vaccine is largely the same as the general public.
“You have some who are like, ‘Sign me up — I’m ready to go,’” Craddock said. “You’ve got some who are a little more hesitant. Usually, in that population, you’ve got some folks who are hesitant about any form of organized assistance.”
The Salvation Army has conducted Covid-19 testing throughout the pandemic as part of the North Carolina long-term care facility regulations. The shelter is still operating at roughly half of its 56-person capacity. Craddock said the facility is currently at its max under the regulations, with 27 residents socially distanced.
It hopes by vaccinating as many people as possible it can soon return to serving to its potential.
As of Thursday, 368 individuals and about 50 households – including 91 children – are enrolled in HUD’s Coordinated Entry program, meaning they are still seeking housing assistance or connection to a program.
“Most of the folks calling in stayed in a place not meant for human habitation the night before . . . showing we do have a larger unsheltered population,” said Maegan Zielinski, homeless Continuum of Care director with the Cape Fear Council of Governments.
The Salvation Army has responded to “a number of Covid positive cases” throughout the pandemic, Craddock said. Organizations in the Cape Fear region, including Salvation Army and United Way, partnered to provide funding for isolating homeless individuals in the case of a positive Covid-19 diagnosis or exposure to the virus.
The Covid-19 Quarantine Program and Healthy Hotels Initiative are expected to continue as long as funding is available and a need is present, Craddock said. He hopes that after giving vaccines the organization will see the demand for Covid-19 housing dwindle.
Craddock encourages people to refer any homeless individuals they know to the vaccination site Friday.
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