Pittsburgh Homelessness & COVID-19

Posted on: June 3, 2021Pittsburgh

In recent weeks, the demand for COVID-19 vaccines continues to diminish as the initial scramble for receiving vaccinations comes to an end. As mass-vaccination clinics close, state and local officials are turning their attention to smaller, individual populations in cities and towns as they work to provide shots to everyone who is willing to receive a vaccination.

One of Pittsburgh’s toughest-to-reach groups is its homeless population. Shelters like the Winter Weather Shelter downtown have been working to vaccinate these individuals, but the effort needs support from the broader community. As a National Health Corps service member, I have been spending my evenings at the homeless shelter in downtown Pittsburgh providing care and resources to this population.

Currently, Allegheny County has a homeless population of roughly 900 individuals: with approximately 600 of those individuals staying in emergency shelters overnight. This figure is projected to rise due to fallout from the pandemic. As research continues to be published, it has been indicated that homeless individuals often are at greater risk for severe or fatal cases of COVID-19 due to medical issues that often accompany homelessness. As a provider in the medical clinic, I have seen first-hand the barriers within access to care and resources that homeless individuals face every day.

Initially, one of the biggest difficulties with vaccinating the homeless was the unpredictability of whether they would be able to return for a second dose. Lack of access to basic conveniences like transportation and a cell phone makes it tough to return for appointments and continue established care. From my experience in the shelter there are also many reports of vaccine hesitation among those experiencing homelessness. It will take proactive outreach, creative thinking, and community involvement to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates within this population.

The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine was the perfect solution to the problem of homeless individuals not being able to return for a second dose. However, due to the nationwide 11-day pause in April in its use due to safety concerns, shelters were left with the option of providing a single shot of Moderna or Pfizer or no vaccine at all. This had repercussions of increased COVID-19 rates within the homeless community and further stigma against the vaccine.

As a National Health Corps member, I strive to eliminate these barriers to care and provide underserved populations such as these with the best resources. Through assisting individuals in establishing permanent care at my clinic and advocating for rapid COVID-19 testing and vaccination I hope to educate individuals on the best ways they can keep themselves healthy and safe. The medical community has been advocating for widespread inoculation from the deadly coronavirus pandemic since it began last January. Those without permanent homes and living under the bridges in Pittsburgh should be prioritized and included in reducing the spread of this disease.

About the Author:

Medha Gopal

Why did you join AmeriCorps/National Health Corps? Coming from a background of practicing paramedicine, I have often seen many patients fall through the cracks of our health care system due to simply not knowing the endless resources that are available. After exploring many programs, I found NHC Pittsburgh’s commitment towards decreasing these disparities an excellent foundation of patient advocacy. Additionally, I joined AmeriCorps to meet likeminded individuals who are passionate about health care and build long lasting friendships.

Host Site

Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center
249 S 9th St
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center
249 S 9th St
Pittsburgh, PA 15203