With surges happening now with the delta variant, health officials are making a new push to get vaccinations to people experiencing homelessness. Numbers show a much higher mortality rate for that community over the general population. Those officials said there are hurdles in their mission that put a spotlight on existing inequities.
“If they wanna find me, I am here,” said Paul Arndt, sitting with a stack of newspapers at an intersection in Nashville, Tennessee. “I’m down here 9 in the morning to 5 at night.”
Arndt sells for The Contributor, a street paper in Nashville, Tennessee. Vendors who have experienced homelessness step up to the window and order papers, and they keep the profits of the sales.
In the pages of the paper, you’ll even find the occasional opinion piece written by Arndt.
“Once in a while!” Arndt smiled, holding up one of the papers.
His articles give a straightforward perspective on the city from someone with low vision who lived homeless for 20 years before recently moving into a single-room space.
“Common sense should tell people, get the shot,” said Arndt, speaking on his most recent concern. “Get in there. Get it. Get it over with. That’s my belief.”
He’s concerned about people who experience homelessness and their hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
“They think the vaccine came out too soon,” said Arndt. “They’re scared they’re going to end up in the hospital from the vaccination, which is not true, which is not true.”
“Because of their congregate settings in a shelter, they are more likely to contract the virus,” said Bobby Watts, CEO for the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council and a member of President Biden’s Health Equity Task Force.
“People who experience homelessness are dying at higher rates than the general population from COVID,” said Watts. “Studies around the country show 30-40% higher rate.”
Watts said there is some good news for Arndt’s home city of Nashville. He said it’s estimated that of the population of people living homeless, about 60% have been vaccinated. That’s higher than the vaccination rate of the general population of the city.
What about numbers for cities across the rest of the country? Watts said those very important, very useful numbers for vaccinations among those experiencing homelessness generally aren’t there. They aren’t recorded in many places.
“Missing data is a form of oppression, because you can’t identify a problem, you can’t solve a problem,” he said.
Watts said with the arrival of the delta variant, there’s an urgency to get work done within a community that sometimes does not trust the health system and gets a lot of misinformation. Watts said vaccines have to go directly to where people are at camps and at shelters, and health officials must use trusted messengers.
In Arndt’s case, someone with The Contributor went with him to get vaccinated.
“I said, ‘yeah!’” said Arndt. “I’m definitely going to get it. I’m definitely getting vaccinated before something happens to me.”
Arndt’s speaking in the hope someone will hear the words of a friend with shared life experience who keeps people up-to-date and informed.
“Everybody should get the shot,” he said. “Everybody.”