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Government And Service Providers Partner To Remove Vaccine Barriers For Unsheltered People In Salt Lake County

A photo of homeless tents on a sidewalk.
Emily Means
Salt Lake service providers set up a COVID-19 vaccination clinic and resource fair Tuesday for people experiencing homelessness downtown.

Stephen Thompson is 49-years-old and experiencing homelessness. He’s been staying at the overflow shelter on Rio Grande Street throughout the winter, and on Tuesday, he got his one-and-done Johnson & Johnson shot in downtown Salt Lake City.

The COVID-19 vaccination clinic was part of a resource fair hosted by the city for people experiencing homelessness.

He said he had been offered the vaccine before but turned it down. This time, though, the service providers had sweetened the deal.

“They offered to give me a gift card for Smiths, and I said, ‘Heck with it, I’m gonna go for it,’” he said. “They said I can get a candy bar, too.”

Katherine Fife, Salt Lake County’s director of programs and partnerships, works with community organizations on homelessness issues.

She said the local health department has been collaborating with service providers, like the Fourth Street Clinic, to vaccinate people on a daily basis through walk-in opportunities.

“The barriers of actually trying to set an appointment, and then showing up for that appointment, that barrier is reduced because you can just show up,” Fife said. “Or, even better, there’s some outreach teams that are going out to really help meet people where they are.”

The most recent data from the county show nearly 800 unsheltered people have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

Fife said they’re using information from service providers to determine how many people need vaccines. But she said that number is always in flux, as people move in and out of homelessness.

“Even with the increase in the number of vaccinations, there are some nightly beds in those [homeless] resource centers, and people do come and go,” she said. “So there is still going to be some risk until that herd immunity across the board is reached.”

Along with administering the vaccine, Fife said service providers have been screening for symptoms and using masks to keep cases down. Last week, the health department reported just five active cases in and out of homeless shelters.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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