“It’s my birthday in two days,” Thyra Goines said. “I’ll be 54.”
Goines lives on the street in Venice. She stopped by a free vaccination event held in September by Venice Family Clinic, in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) and several homeless outreach organizations, to deliver free hepatitis A and pneumococcal vaccines. When a Public Health nurse asked for Goines’ birthdate, that’s when she let them know she would be celebrating her birthday soon – though she would have to wait for her public assistance to be loaded onto her EBT card first.
Dr. Coley King, Venice Family Clinic’s director of homeless health care, saw a need for an initiative to bring vaccines free-of-charge to people experiencing homelessness. So, he teamed up with Public Health to set up nurses under a canopy on Venice’s 3rd Avenue and made his way up and down the street, reinforcing existing relationships and making new ones to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Part of a 6-month pilot program in a collaboration between Venice Family Clinic, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and St. Joseph Center, the monthly free vaccinations for the homeless population in Venice will rotate based on season and need, and locations will change to find the best sites for optimal delivery and access.
“People experiencing homelessness are often unable to go to a clinic to get help,” said King, who leads the Clinic’s street medicine program. “They may have emotional trauma that leads to distrust. They may fear not being treated with dignity because of their hygiene. They may have trouble traveling to a clinic with all their possessions in tow. If we can’t bring care to them, where will they get it?”
For the county, increasing accessibility to vaccines is a primary public health concern.
“The goal is to offer vaccines where homeless individuals are, lowering the barrier to getting vaccinated and preventing communicable diseases proactively,” said Lonnie Resser, a health program analyst for Public Health’s Community and Field Services division.
Having convenient, low-cost health care is paramount to people living without permanent shelter such as Goines. She and her husband, as well as their 12-year-old dog, moved to Los Angeles less than a year ago from Ohio to escape the cold weather. They took up residence near the intersection of 3rd and Rose avenues, steps away from trendy restaurants and stores. Their spot on the street is also just a few blocks away from the Clinic’s flagship facility on Rose Avenue, where Goines and her husband have been patients for the past couple of months.
When asked if they would have gotten the hepatitis A and pneumococcal vaccines had the services not been so conveniently located, Goines replied: “Probably not.”
If successful, the goal is to expand the program outside of Venice and the Westside to include other areas of Los Angeles County. In October, the Clinic and Public Health plan to offer pneumonia and influenza vaccines, just in time for flu season.