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San Luis Obispo PD partners with mental health association to vaccinate homeless individuals

Angel Russell
The one-dose vaccine can help inoculate a population that can be hard to reach

As public health experts continue to push the population towards herd immunity against COVID-19, San Luis Obispo County is beginning the work of vaccinating homeless individuals housed within their shelter systems by bringing the vaccine to them.

This week, Transitions Mental Health Association teamed up with the San Luis Obispo Police Department to provide the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to people living within homeless encampments.

Lt. John Villanti with SLO PD said it’s not a simple task finding individuals since there are several miles of encampments scattered throughout the city.

“It wasn’t like we knew exactly where they were," Villanti said. "It took us 3-4 hours to walk many many miles of the open space to find the encampments and if they were occupied, offer the services of providing the vaccination for them.”

A social worker, nurse, and uniformed officers went into the encampments.

Joe Madsen with Transitions Mental Health said it takes time and effort to get individuals to accept the vaccine, and out of the ten vaccines they had, nine people accepted it.

San Luis Obispo City was the first attempt at this method, and Madsen said they plan on partnering with multiple agencies to try to provide this service throughout the county.

“We are going to do at least two to three more in the city," Madsen said. "We are going to try to do it on at least a monthly basis and by weekly if we can. So this is definitely not a one-time only going out in the field, it’s going to become a regular thing.”

Lt. Villanti said getting homeless individuals vaccinated is important, as state restrictions have been lifted.

“They are coming out of their encampments and they are starting to return to their normal behavior," Villanti said. "Which is going back downtown, visiting farmers markets, and integrating with other community members. So it’s nice we are providing this service so that they are safe, and so is our community.”

For more information on COVID-19 vaccines in SLO County, visit readyslo.org.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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