Here's How to Help the Unhoused & Undocumented Receive a COVID-19 Vaccine
Please note: The below are suggestions and do not serve as legal advice. Before implementing any of these practices, please consult appropriate leadership and/or legal counsel.
The unhoused and undocumented are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 for a myriad of reasons. Some lack a permanent address required to attain social services. Others put off receiving medical treatment, fearing detainment and deportation. As a result, unhoused and undocumented people are at higher risk for contracting and experiencing complications from COVID-19. Social safety networks often preclude these populations in their planning, failing to make resources truly accessible to those who need them.
Many Episcopal Charities-sponsored programs serve the unhoused and undocumented. If you work for or volunteer at a site serving these populations, you might find the below information helpful in expanding vaccine access. If you are not currently connected with serving these groups but would like to be, contact SK Doyle, Associate Director of Programs and Volunteers, to get involved!
Helping the Unhoused
According to New York State's current roll-out plan, those who are living in dorm-style shelters with spaces shared by 12 people or more are now eligible to be vaccinated as part of Group 1B. The Department of Health Services in New York City has set up several vaccination hubs in shelters across the city. You can read more about the current effort to vaccinate unhoused people in New York City here. Regardless, those that are unhoused and living communally are now eligible for vaccination across the state -- not just in the city.
Attaining the vaccine may be difficult for those struggling with housing security because filling out the application and setting up appointments are done online. The unhoused often have unreliable Internet access or no access at all. If you work at a feeding program, you could bring along a tablet or laptop at food distribution sites to help clients fill out these forms. Episcopal Charities can support programs with this process by:
Providing additional volunteers to assist clients with online registrations.
Lending tablets to programs with WiFi access.
You can reach out to SK for assistance with either of these resources.
If a program client is eligible for vaccination but does not have an ID card with their birthdate, you might provide them with a letter stating the person's age, that they are homeless, and that they receive mail at your program site. It's unclear if all vaccination sites will accept this as proof of age or eligibility, but increased documentation is always useful when working to expand access to those who have been shut off from receiving healthcare.
If you serve populations living in Manhattan or the Bronx, these guides by the Coalition for the Homeless may be of use. And here's Episcopal Charities "Street Sheets," highlighting resources throughout the Diocese of New York. If you have additions or corrections to this resource, please let us know!
Helping the Undocumented
In 2020, the federal government required states to share personal information of those who were receiving vaccinations that could have been used to track the undocumented. Those regulations are no longer in effect. If you work with potentially undocumented clients, please share this information with them!
Max Hadler, Director of Health Policy, New York Immigration Coalition says, “as individuals become eligible, vaccines will be available at no cost regardless of immigration status, insurance coverage, income, or ability to pay. There are no immigration-related consequences of receiving the vaccine, and New Yorkers’ personal information is protected.”
Additional resources for those working with the undocumented community can be found here.
Becoming a COVID-19 Vaccination Site
(New York City only)
If your program or parish matches the criteria on the document attached here, you might be eligible to volunteer as a COVID-19 vaccination site. If you're interested, please email Que.English@nyshcr.org, Deputy Director of Faith-Based Initiatives, who will follow up with you to collect further information.
If you have additional resources or information about helping the unhoused and undocumented receive vaccinations, or any resources our programs might find useful in general, don't hesitate to get in touch with us.
And as always, if you're unable to support vulnerable populations with your time, a donation to Episcopal Charities directly funds those doing this critical work.
We are each other's community, and it requires all of us to take care of one another - especially our most marginalized neighbors.