Mayor Hancock, Denver officials pushing to prioritize homeless residents in vaccine distribution

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DENVER — Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver officials are continuing to advocate for accelerated COVID-19 vaccine availability for people experiencing homelessness.

The Denver Joint Task Force — made up of representatives from the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, the Denver Department of Housing Stability, Denver Public Health at Denver Health and Hospital Authority, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and other Homeless Leadership Council providers — sent a memo to state officials last week urging “the adoption of a location-based prioritization strategy to vaccinate homeless residents.”

During a press conference Jan. 28, Department of Public Health & Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald said the city has been using vaccination outreach teams to administer the vaccine in shelters and homeless camps on site to those who qualify.

The proposed strategy, however, would allow people at a shelter, motel, managed campsite or unsanctioned encampment to receive the vaccine all at once, regardless of age.

There are an estimated 6,151 guests and staff of shelters, people living in encampments and service providers across Denver.

Currently, direct care providers for Coloradans experiencing homelessness are part of Phase 1B.3, which could begin as soon as early March. Otherwise, people experiencing homeless would be eligible for the vaccine based on their age.

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“Our unhoused neighbors have been among our most vulnerable residents throughout the pandemic,” Hancock said. “It is critical that we accelerate immunizations not just for people experiencing homelessness, but also for the service providers, case managers and others who work closest with them, which will support the health of the general public as well.”

The hospitalization rate for homeless residents is three times that of the general population, according to the Task Force. The memo sent to the state says, in part:

“There is an urgent need to vaccinate people experiencing homelessness and service provider staff to induce herd immunity to protect people at risk and prevent large outbreaks in congregate settings. Prioritization of people experiencing homelessness will also benefit our Denver metro region population by decreasing the rate of community transmission.”

Hancock has pushed for adjustments to Colorado’s vaccine distribution plan in a Jan. 7 letter to Gov. Jared Polis proposing to include giving a higher priority to people living in congregate settings, such as homeless shelters.

The state has said in the past they are working on targeted programs for people experiencing homelessness, depending on availability of the vaccine in the area.