HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Since June, Project Vision has provided close to 15,000 coronavirus tests for Hawaii’s homeless.
Now, the Department of Health has tasked the non-profit with vaccinating that same community.
“We do have plans of bringing the vaccines to the shelters, to the (specialty) homes, to the encampments so we can meet people where they are,” said Darrah Kauhane, Project Vision executive director.
The non-profit’s staff work out of the Windward Health Center and provide a mobile vaccine service as well. The team is currently working to immunize homeless kupuna over the age of 75 and educate those who may be on the fence.
Kauhane explained the approach.
“We ask, “What questions do you have? What hesitations do you have? What can we share with you so that we can encourage you to make use of this vaccine?’”
It’s still unclear when the majority of Hawaii’s homeless population will be eligible to get the vaccine.
Homeless service providers hope they will fall under Phase 1C of the state’s vaccination plan.
That phase is expected to start next month.
Advocates say people without permanent housing have a greater risk catching the virus because so many live so close together, either on the street or in shelters.
According to last year’s point-in-time count, there were nearly 6,500 homeless people statewide.
“We’ve been very lucky in the homeless population that there has not been a huge surge of positive cases. We want to keep that going,” said Laura Thielen, executive director of Partners in Care.
She said right now, every homeless shelter on Oahu is compiling a list of their most vulnerable clients so they can be prioritized when the time comes to dole out shots.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges vaccinating the homeless community is finding people again to administer a second dose.
“Trying to do the two-step process for the houseless community is possible but of course it makes it more difficult,” said Kauhane, adding that the single-dose Johnson&Johnson vaccine “would be a game changer for our population.”
The FDA will vote on whether to approve the single-dose shot this Friday. If it gets the OK, vials of the vaccine could start arriving in Hawaii early next month.
The state Department of Health is ultimately responsible for determining when Hawaii’s homeless population will be eligible for the vaccine. The agency is expected to release more information in the coming weeks.