My name is Jeffrey Levita (he/him). I was born and raised in San Francisco and graduated from San Francisco State University in 2019 with a degree in Community Based Public Health. As a San Francisco native, I experienced friends and family being priced out of the city due to rent increases/high housing costs and noticed an increase in housing insecurity in my community, compelling me to learn about the homelessness crisis in the city. I decided to join NHC SF to learn more while serving to improve the health of the unhoused population in San Francisco. I serve at the San Francisco Department of Public Health as a Shelter In Place Hotel Coordinator with the Whole Person Integrated Care Team and as a COVID-19 Responder with the Population Health Team. In this blog, I share my experience serving with San Francisco’s unhoused population during the COVID -19 pandemic.
My service term with NHC SF started in February 2020, and a month into my service, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, allowing me to serve from home and adapt to a remote position. I educated shelter residents and employees by creating informational flyers/graphics that were posted around each shelter while teaching Disaster Service Workers about COVID -19 and how to serve the homeless population in shelters.
A few months later, I began serving in person at Shelter in Place (SIP) hotels, hotel sites that house over 2,500 vulnerable/unsheltered individuals. I assisted nurses, physicians, and case managers with medical outreach at the SIP hotels by conducting wellness checks, taking vitals, changing bandages, providing medication education, and addressing other medical needs.
In a span of months, I was able to build trust to motivate clients to sign up for resources by doing door-to-door outreach on each floor of the SIP Hotel and helping clients sign up for food stamps or connecting them to primary care. As I helped clients, they shared their stories and expressed gratitude for the help I was able to offer. Many expressed how lonely it feels to be isolated in a hotel room and they always look forward to my knock on their door.
Serving in SIP hotels showed me the importance of being housed especially during a pandemic. I spoke to some clients who were placed in a SIP site in June 2020 who expressed that it was difficult to practice hygiene and protect themselves from COVID while living in the shelters or the streets.
My service term was set to end in December 2020, but I decided to dedicate another service term to help my SFDPH team with disclosing positive results during a COVID surge and connecting my clients at the SIP sites to proper resources as they transition to new living situations.
In March 2020, I joined the WPIC Mobile Vaccination Team. The mobile vaccine team consisted of physicians, nurses, health workers, and Americorps members who set up vaccine clinics at the majority of the shelters, SIP hotels, Single Residence Occupancy Hotels, Permanent Supportive Housings units, and other tent encampments specifically in the Tenderloin, SOMA, & Bayview/Hunters Point neighborhoods in San Francisco. Our team brought the vaccine to clients and vaccinated whoever was willing to get it. The role of the Americorps members was to screen and register each client and provide COVID-19 Vaccine education to individuals. Having clients in a fixed location has boosted our team's ability to vaccinate and address primary care needs, making it easier to follow up, outreach to, and provide education to clients in a setting that they are comfortable in. It feels very rewarding to be able to bring the vaccine to clients and to reduce barriers to accessing the vaccine.
My experience serving with NHC SF helped spark my passion to advocate for housing and health for San Francisco’s unhoused population. I learned the intersection between primary care and prevention while working with this team of public health physicians and nurses. They taught me that we should approach health as a whole person, including trauma-informed care into practice and addressing social determinants of health. In the future, I plan to get my Master's in Public Health Nursing and continue to serve San Francisco’s vulnerable populations. I hope to continue to break down barriers in health care and continue to advocate for housing as a human right.