As the sun baked overhead in the midday sun on March 31, a homeless shelter and mobile health clinic joined forces to offer COVID-19 vaccines for low-income and individuals without permanent shelter.
The shots were offered by The Palmetto Palace and Tricounty Family Ministries. They were provided without the need to schedule ahead and were given alongside the ministry's weekly food distribution so low-income and unsheltered homeless people would be able to receive vaccines against the deadly coronavirus, leaders said.
Tanisha Powell, who began working on client intake at Tricounty just over a year ago, said it was a relief to offer health in addition to food, especially since the pandemic forced the ministry to shutter some of its other programs for homeless individuals.
Not everyone knew they were eligible for vaccines and some were not confident the shot was safe for them, Powell told The Post and Courier. But having familiar faces like Powell’s to answer their questions and walk them over to get shots, she said.
That was no surprise to Dr. Youlanda Gibbs, founder and executive director of The Palmetto Palace, a nonprofit mobile health unit.
After organizing three other vaccine clinics across the Lowcountry, she knew the key to providing shots would be working alongside trusted service groups in the communities the agency hoped to vaccinate.
“Some people just passed and saw us. One man said his ex-wife had told him,” Gibbs said as she guided a driver into the site off Cosgrove Avenue. “But the folks here who are homeless, we wanted to make sure we reached them.”
And the food-distribution crew was eager to help.
“Ever since we heard the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been approved here, for South Carolina, we knew that’s what we needed,” said Rev. Kara Stewart, executive of Tricounty Family Ministries. “When you’re unhoused or stressed financially, all you can deal with is the day-to-day … planning 21 days out isn’t possible when you’re in survival mode.”
Especially since many clients hadn’t faced similar levels of poverty or housing instability before the pandemic, Stewart worried that offering the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer shots wouldn’t fully meet the needs of the homeless community.
“Johnson & Johnson was the game changer,” Stewart said. “Some folks are still not sure how to navigate everything. … We want to offer help that’s simple and accessible.”
It was a success.
When people driving past the parking lot on Cosgrove saw the signs and mobile health unit, they stopped in hopes of getting a shot. While Gibbs had initially planned to offer walk-up shots for unhoused people in the morning before opening a drive-thru for other community members, she eventually decided to run them simultaneously so as many people as possible could get inoculations.
The combination of accessible planning and partnerships with established community resource centers has proven itself, Gibbs said. And until the Lowcountry’s rural, low-income and marginalized communities are fully vaccinated, she intends to keep up the effort.
Photos: North Charleston walkup vaccine and food drive
Palmetto Palace mobile health unit vaccination site and food drive at Tricounty Family Ministries on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 in North Charleston. About 100 Johnson & Johnson vaccines were available for those in need along with Moderna in North Charleston.