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Columbus organizations team up to vaccinate people without homes

Dozens of homeless individuals were vaccinated against COVID-19 this week thanks to a clinic set up by Columbus Public Health and the Community Shelter Board.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the cold Ohio winter, homeless shelters start to see more and more people looking for a place to stay.

Places like the Van Buren Center in Columbus take all the necessary precautions against COVID-19: Social distancing, sanitizing and masks. But nothing works quite like a vaccine.

“You’ve got staff members, front line workers, who are helping keep people safe in congregant settings,” says Sara Loken, Community Relations Director for the Community Shelter Board. “We really need to vaccinate these folks, both the people who work in these facilities and the people who live temporarily in these facilities. The same way we’re vaccinating health care workers and people living in health care facilities.”

The Community Shelter Board partnered with Columbus Public Health to provide multiple vaccination clinics in February. One of the shelters that hosted a clinic was the Van Buren Center.

Shameikia Smith is the Executive Director of Shelter Services for the YMCA of Central Ohio. She says the turnout was great thanks to great teamwork and education.

The education factor is a central focus for the Community Shelter Board. Loken says the communication campaign is putting effort into helping people get access to information.

“If you don’t have easy access to a computer, or you don’t have a smartphone at the moment, where are you getting your news from? Where can you get your questions answered? People just want information, and everyone who gets a vaccine should get all their questions answered," Loken said.

The Community Shelter Board is organizing an information campaign to answer those questions. That includes asking people to share their own experiences and asking experts to come to shelters to answer as many questions as they can.

All of this in the hopes that more people will volunteer to be vaccinated, and to make sure that those without a home don’t go without protection.

“The people that we serve have always been at the forefront of everyone’s minds and everyone’s thoughts simply based on the fact that they’re in a congregant facility, much like a nursing home,” Smith said. “And we have great partners who use their voice to help those who are oftentimes voiceless.”

A clinic for second doses is already set up for next month. Although shelter stays are only temporary, Smith says the shelters have systems in place to track which visitors got which vaccines.

She says they hope to have more clinics for the first dose scheduled again soon.

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