San Joaquin County Clinics, affiliated with San Joaquin General Hospital, began their mission to vaccinate the county’s homeless population in February.
According to a 2019 Point-in-Time Homeless count, San Joaquin County reported having 1,558 people living on the streets and 1,061 homeless individuals living in emergency shelters, tripling the numbers reported in 2017.
As of now, San Joaquin County clinics have approximately vaccinated 400 homeless people living in shelters.
They first started out by vaccinating those who worked with the homeless population on an everyday basis, including some who are homeless themselves.
Joan Singson, director of Population Health Management at San Joaquin General Hospital said, “We were earlier on wanting to make sure we vaccinate people who either worked or volunteered in the shelters.”
Soon after vaccines were available, homeless service providers were bumped up to the 1B tier for priority eligibility to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Britton Kimball, chief operations officer at Gospel Center Rescue Mission located in Stockton, was among those emergency service workers.
“We had never shut down because this is a necessary service for the homeless population,” Kimball said.
Together, Singson and Kimball worked with their teams to get themselves vaccinated and then moved on to the homeless population.
Singson said they do pop-up clinics for the homeless and drive to locations where they know unhoused people are, typically congregate shelters.
“We have a couple of vans and I take a team and we drive to locations where we know homeless individuals are,” Singson said.
Other organizations and services that help homeless people also connect them with Singson even if they might not be in a shelter or encampment.
“So, I for example, will get phone calls from people who are not necessarily your typical encampment dweller, but they live in their cars,” Singson said. “But they will get plugged into one of these services and will get referred to me.”
Thomas Pleasant, who is currently living in a shelter because of alcohol and anger problems, said he was someone who got vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson by Singson.
“I didn’t really care to have it or not because I don’t really get sick that easily.” Pleasant said.
He said he mostly got it in order to go on trips that the shelters take them on and so he wouldn’t infect those around him in the shelter.
Singson said homeless people living in shelters are easier to track down, so they vaccinate them with the Moderna shot, which requires a two-dose shot. However, for those living in encampments who can’t be easily found, they are waiting to see when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will become available again after California paused administering the vaccine because of concerns over blood clots reported in rare cases.
“Our other goal is to go into encampments and offer vaccinations, but we are kind of holding off on that until we get Johnson & Johnson back,” Singson said.
For homeless people interested in getting vaccinated, information can be given at local shelters, dining halls and service providers.