Since early 2021, Sacramento Steps Forward has been partnering with a number of community-based organizations and local health partners to provide COVID-19 education and resources to unsheltered residents across Sacramento, including the vaccines. The COVID-19 Vaccine Ambassadors played a significant role in conducting community outreach, providing information and support to unsheltered populations, and advocating for the needs of our unhoused neighbors. This post raises awareness about the ambassadors’ important vaccine prevention efforts and shares about the outreach experience of Zuri Colbert from Community Lead Advocacy Program (CLAP).
Why did you choose to become a COVID-19 Vaccine Ambassador?
I chose to become a COVID-19 Vaccine Ambassador because during the pandemic our unhoused neighbors were the most vulnerable and least supported by our community. The public health crisis required and still requires sheltering in place, knowledge of COVID-19 education, and major lifestyle changes to be safe during this pandemic. Unfortunately, if you are unsheltered in Sacramento it is harder to make public health lifestyle changes. The COVID-19 Vaccine Ambassadors are assigned to directly connect with our unhoused community members to support them with COVID-19 education, PPE, and access to COVID-19 vaccines to make things somewhat easier during this hard time.
What COVID-19 concerns do you often hear from homeless community members?
The COVID-19 concern that our community members discuss the most is the “safeness” of the COVID-19 vaccines. Our unhoused POC community is aware of racism within the healthcare field that has happened to ancestors but also voices their own lived experience with racial injustice when seeking medical care. It is important as a COVID-19 Vaccine Ambassador to listen to the community that is most impacted and honestly validate the historical and present-day medical experiences of our community members. We follow up these discussions by providing the COVID-19 vaccination safety facts. This allows for our unhoused community to choose what works best for them and leaves the door open to be vaccinated at a later time with public health safety tools they can refer to until they are ready.
How have you helped to address the needs of our unsheltered residents?
Our organization CLAP saw many of our Sacramento community members struggling for the basic resources in part due to the racial inequities, lack of advocacy, and major support while getting back on their feet. For the Black community and communities of color, it is even harder due to generations of systemic oppression. CLAP has an intentional focus on supporting Black, Brown, Indigenous lives due to systemic disparities and we do that with Reach Outs in the impacted areas that connect our communities to culturally competent resources and connections.
How can we better collaborate to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus, myths, and fears among the homeless?
The first step to combating fears and concerns of the COVID-19 virus is to listen to what the fears are. With the COVID-19 education materials we are provided as COVID-19 Vaccine Ambassadors, there can be immediate dispelling of some of the inaccurate COVID-19 or COVID-19 vaccine information. We have to also remember that not all of the COVID-19 or COVID-19 vaccination concerns voiced by our unhoused are “myths.” Here at CLAP, we are knowledgeable of health history, atrocities, and facts. We cannot change any fears until we as a community in whole are acknowledging the inhumane health practices that marginalized community members have witnessed or experienced. Our COVID-19 tool belts allow us to be able to acknowledge and validate real-life experiences and move forward with public health tools such as the COVID-19 vaccines.
What should individuals interested in becoming an ambassador know or do to prepare before going out in the community?
COVID-19 Vaccine Ambassadors should know the Sacramento community at large as well as be familiar with the unhoused population within that community they are going into.
What do you wish people knew about homelessness?
I wish people knew that when someone is unhoused here in Sacramento it is not just the lack of economic resources that led to a person being without shelter. There can be many factors but the most evident one to me is the connection to people and community resources that leads to housing and also sustains the housing. When we are connected to people and the community we have more choices for improvements in quality of life and housing.
Our COVID-19 Vaccine Ambassadors are crucial in helping us understand our unhoused community members’ motivations, questions, and needs during this ongoing public health crisis. Read more about our outreach and explore available resources.
We also encourage you to learn more about the new California Ambassador Program. Trusted messengers help inform the community about why the COVID-19 vaccines provide the best protection against this virus. If you’re interested in helping reduce the spread of COVID-19, register for the Ambassador Training on Wednesday, October 20 at 6:30 pm (English) and Wednesday, November 3 at 6:30 pm (Spanish).