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St. Louis Homeless Shelters, Providers Rely On Earned Trust To Boost Vaccinations

Missouri National Guard medic Dakota Wilson puts a bandage on 54-year-old Dwayne Furlow's arm after giving him a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on May 4, 2021 at St. Patrick Center in downtown St. Louis.
Kayla Drake
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri National Guard medic Dakota Wilson puts a Band-Aid on 54-year-old Dwayne Furlow's arm after giving him a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday at St. Patrick Center in downtown St. Louis.

Homeless shelters and service providers in the St. Louis region are leaning on the trust they've fostered for years in the homeless community to get COVID-19 vaccines in arms. So far, it's working.

Organizations including St. Patrick Center, Peter and Paul Community Services, St. Vincent de Paul and City Hope have helped vaccinate nearly 400 people since March. Leaders and caseworkers at the nonprofits say personal relationships have been key to that success.

“In working with the unhoused community, trust is a major issue,” City Hope CEO Michael Robinson said. “Our guests have grown to love and trust us because of the way that we treat them and assist them. That helps to bring some of the level of anxiety and scrutiny down because most of them don't believe that we would do anything that would harm them.”

St. Louis-area providers are vaccinating people on-site at their facilities so people feel more comfortable. City Hope operates seven shelters in St. Louis, including Little Sisters of the Poor, where it plans to hold a vaccine clinic Friday. Robinson has also invited infectious disease doctors into his shelters to dispel myths and educate people about the vaccine.

Homeless service providers are partnering with the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and Missouri National Guard to administer shots at their clinics.

St. Patrick Center on Tuesday hosted its second vaccine clinic, which was open to anyone. People who use the center’s services walked into a room of familiar faces, as case managers volunteered to sign people in and hand out coffee.

“There is something to be said about having them come to a place that is comfortable,” St. Patrick Center CEO Anthony D’Agostino said.

The center has helped vaccinate more than 200 people alone since March.

St. Patrick Center also sends people to get vaccinated at the Dome at America’s Center. The National Guard site based at the convention center is a 10-minute walk from the center’s building and does not require an ID for someone to receive a vaccine.

D’Agostino said his goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

People without housing are three times as likely to have a chronic illness, so providers are urgently trying to get their clients vaccinated to avoid any possible health complications due to COVID-19.

Both D’Agostino and Robinson said despite their clients being transient, few have actually contracted COVID-19.

Still, 54-year-old Dwayne Furlow, who got his vaccine at St. Patrick Center on Tuesday, said he would rather be safe than sorry.

“I’m just trying to protect myself,” he said.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.