Matthew Ward is a preparer.
Having run his own contracting business for about 15 years, Ward is used to being in charge and keeping operations under control. But he didn’t plan to experience homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This was the most unprepared I’ve been in my entire life: food, everything, no finances,” said Ward, who grew up in Kensington and spent his early adulthood in Manayunk and Roxborough. “When the COVID hit, and then they had the shutdown, everything stopped. [There’s] a sense of fear and worry that comes in with that.”
When Ward received the COVID-19 vaccine last week, he felt a new sense of hope, he added.
Ward is one of 30 people to have received the COVID-19 vaccine at Project HOME’s Hub of Hope, a daytime respite for people experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia.
“Hopefully, me getting this vaccine will prevent somebody from getting sick, even myself,” Ward said.
The Hub opened their vaccination clinic on Tuesday, Feb. 9, after their staff secured a supply of vaccines from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. Nurses at the clinic vaccinate Philadelphians experiencing homelessness who fall into the “1b” category of the city’s vaccination schedule, which includes those living in congregate settings like shelters, people with certain high-risk medical conditions, and people who are 75 or older.
The clinic is located at the back of the Hub, where people typically wait to see a doctor, take a shower, or run a load of laundry. Staff and volunteers are positioned at three booths — one to check people in for their appointment, one to administer the vaccine, and another to monitor the patient for 15 minutes after their vaccination, in case of side effects.
According to Monica McCurdy, the vice president of health care services at Project Home, the health department initially told the Hub to give their patients re-allocated vaccines from the Stephen Klein Wellness Center, another Project HOME site, but changed that directive before the start of the Hub’s clinic. Instead, new vaccines are transported directly from the health department to a freezer at the Hub.
The Hub currently has five vials, each of which have ten doses per vial. They’ll request more vials from the health department when they run out or if they can expand their clinic days to four-times a week, McCurdy said.
For now, they’re starting slow and offering 10 vaccination slots per clinic, which are currently held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, McCurdy added.
The Hub’s first three clinics were held on Feb. 9, Feb. 11, and Feb. 16. A clinic planned for Thursday, Feb. 18, was cancelled due to bad weather.
Linda Costello, a resident of Project HOME’s Kate’s Place residence in Center City, was among the first group of people to be vaccinated at the Hub on Feb. 9.
“For me, there was no question in my mind, I wanted the vaccine,” Costello said. “I don’t want to die. I didn’t want to get [COVID-19]; I haven’t gotten it.”
After her vaccination, Costello experienced minor side effects, like a sore arm the next day, but is glad she got the vaccine, she added.
To help treat side effects, Project HOME gives patients a zip-lock bag packed with Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, a cold pack, a sticker, and a $5 Dunkin Donuts gift card.
“Anyone with a house can lay down, take a hot shower, do your comfort measures and get through the side effects,” McCurdy said. “A person without shelter is going to have a hard time finding that. So we wanted to do something nice for people.”
Patients will get a care package after the second shot, too.
Additionally, people who stay in shelters can take a pre-written letter to give to their shelter the next morning if they experience lingering side-effects. Because most shelters force guests to leave in the early hours of the morning, the letter requests for the shelter to make an exception for those people.
Costello’s apartment at Kate’s Place is considered permanent supportive housing. But her experience with homelessness started before that, when she lost her job at a mail-order pharmacy in 2018 and began working her way through the shelter system to survive.
From Costello’s experience staying in shelters — which included sleeping on chairs during the night, developing infections on her legs, and sharing a bathroom with multiple women at once — she said she knows how quickly sickness can spread among people without housing, and how necessary it is to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“You can’t self-isolate in shelters; you can’t self-isolate being homeless out in the street,” Costello added. “There’s all people around you.”
Both Costello and Ward said they’ll continue wearing masks and following social distance guidelines even now that they’ve been vaccinated.
“Everything in life is like, proceed with caution, still be cautious,” Ward said. “Like anything else, I’m still gonna wear the mask.”
Editors: Zari Tarazona, Siani Colón / Designer: Henry Savage
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