The first two homeless shelters in Sacramento County received COVID-19 vaccine doses on Monday, marking a milestone in the effort to keep some of the area’s most vulnerable residents safe from the deadly virus.
Meghan Marshall, a division manager at Sacramento County’s Department of Health Services, said both facilities received 80 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only a single dose.
They were provided to First Step Communities and the North 5th Street Shelter, both in the city’s River District, where a large concentration of the area’s homeless population lives.
Late last week, California made new groups of workers eligible for the vaccine starting March 15, including utility and transit employees, social workers and people who are homeless. Initially, the state listed unhoused residents higher in priority for the vaccine, but dropped that ranking in late January.
Marshall described the effort as “very rewarding,” adding that vaccinating people who are unhoused is a benefit to residents countywide.
“The more persons regardless of a special population they may exist in — whether it’s teachers or a homeless camp — the more persons who are vaccinated, the healthier our entire community will be,” she said.
Marshall said the county received 700 of the doses for the unhoused community and expects all will be administered this week. She said it’s unknown when the state will make additional supply available for this population.
The most recent survey from 2019 estimated there are 5,600 homeless people in Sacramento County.
Sadie Luke, a client services assistant at First Step Communities shelter, said her facility did not have an exact number for how many of the 40 men and 40 women who live at the shelter were vaccinated on Monday. But she described the effort as “definitely successful.”
“Many of our clients were excited it was their turn,” Luke said, adding that most of the shelter staff had been vaccinated before Monday, but some received doses along with the clients.
A representative for the North 5th Street shelter could not be reached.
Some of the earliest fears about COVID-19 in Sacramento County and other communities with large unhoused populations was that the virus would spread through tightly-packed homeless shelters and camps, where social distancing is difficult. Some large outbreaks took place in other cities, but fortunately not in Sacramento, Marshall said.
Some smaller outbreaks have caused problems. In February, the city of Sacramento closed for 10 days its two emergency warming centers after a volunteer tested positive for the virus. Those centers serve as barebones shelters for area homeless residents.
A statewide program called Project Roomkey has helped house approximately 35,000 homeless people in motel rooms across California, Gov. Newsom said in his State of the State Address last week. That includes more than 1,000 unhoused people in Sacramento County.
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