How McHenry County groups worked to vaccinate the homeless

  • Rocio Nevarez, community health worker for the McHenry County Department of Health, goes through a bag of supplies including face masks, hand sanitizers, a rescue blanket, and first aid kit available for clients Friday during an Empower Shower event at Willow Creek Community Church in Crystal Lake. The event gathers multiple agencies with resources to help people without housing.

    Rocio Nevarez, community health worker for the McHenry County Department of Health, goes through a bag of supplies including face masks, hand sanitizers, a rescue blanket, and first aid kit available for clients Friday during an Empower Shower event at Willow Creek Community Church in Crystal Lake. The event gathers multiple agencies with resources to help people without housing. Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media

  • Van Brautigam of Woodstock does a load of laundry in a room at Willow Creek Community Church during an Empower Shower event Friday in Crystal Lake. The event gathers multiple agencies with resources to help the people without housing.

    Van Brautigam of Woodstock does a load of laundry in a room at Willow Creek Community Church during an Empower Shower event Friday in Crystal Lake. The event gathers multiple agencies with resources to help the people without housing. Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media

 
By Cassie Buchman
Shaw Media
Updated 8/23/2021 6:20 AM

Collaboration among different McHenry County organizations has helped to vaccinate the local homeless population against COVID-19, as cases continue to rise.

"The county's effort to vaccinate people without housing actually goes back months," McHenry County Department of Health spokeswoman Lindsey Salvatelli said in an email.

 

Back when vaccines first became available in a phased approach, those living in congregate settings, such as shelters and nursing homes, were eligible to get the vaccine during the first stage.

One of the organizations the McHenry County Health Department worked with to get people without housing vaccinated is the McHenry-based Pioneer Center for Human Services, which provides programming and shelter for the area's unhoused population.

With vaccines provided by the health department, the Pioneer Center's nursing team administered inoculations at the organization's main office starting in December. From the end of last year to the beginning of 2021, the Pioneer Center vaccinated 27 people in the shelter, out of the 35 allowed under capacity rules put in place because of COVID-19.

"It took a lot of work, a lot of organization, a lot of logistics, but it went wonderful," Pioneer Center co-CEO Sam Tenuto said.

Getting an estimate on the number of homeless people vaccinated became a little tricky as the vaccine became more widely available and people chose to go to pharmacies or other clinics to get their shots, Tenuto said.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

When it comes to vaccinating the homeless population, Tenuto said the center's greatest challenge early on was helping people understand the vaccination process.

"When this was rolled out in the community (in) December, January, people have a lot of questions," she said.

A lot of the questions centered around possible side effects, as well as the efficacy of the vaccines. To answer those questions, the Pioneer Center got information sheets from the local health department and pharmacies, which were shared with the people they serve.

Julie Davis, outreach pastor at Willow Creek Crystal Lake, said getting those without permanent housing vaccinated can be tricky, as they might not have the necessary identification cards or access to technology to sign up for a shot. Davis helps run events called Community Empower Showers, which give the unsheltered population access to resources and services such as clothing, food and haircuts.

Other barriers to getting the unsheltered population vaccinated is connecting with them, as they may be transient, Davis said. Transportation also can be tricky.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

During the fourth Community Empower Shower on Friday, Sherry Brenton said she had been homeless for 3 years before getting housing recently in Crystal Lake.

"I enjoy being around because I'm so used to coming here," she said, calling the people at Willow Creek Community Church's Crystal Lake location "like family."

This made Brenton's decision to get vaccinated at the church during a previous event easier, as people she trusted talked her into getting it.

"I thought it would be safe," she said. "I was more comfortable coming here to Willow Creek."

The next Community Empower Shower events are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 3 and 17.

About half the people Pioneer Center talked to about vaccinations already wanted to get an inoculation, while the other half decided to based on education they were given, Tenuto said.

"The shelter's main focus is to help people secure stable housing. The other point is, though, that the team ... truly cares about the people we serve, so we care about their wellness and safety." Tenuto said. "That's why we really wanted to make this possible."

Vaccines will not be mandated for those wanting to enter the Pioneer Center's shelter, but if new intakes would like to receive a vaccination, Tenuto said they will partner with the Family Health Partnership in Crystal Lake to provide them.

Pioneer Center plans to keep COVID-19 safety measures, such as mask-wearing, weekly testing and social distancing, in place for now.

"Based on what we understand (with the delta) variant today, most likely, we will have to use those preventive measures heading into fall and winter," Tenuto said. "Nothing's going to change overnight."

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Attention: We are experiencing technical difficulties with our Facebook Comments module at this time. Comments will remain disabled until we are able to resolve the problem. We apologize for the interruption. We invite you to engage with our content and talk with other commenters on our Daily Herald Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DailyHeraldFans/. Thank you.