SYDNEY — Complying with strict health orders to stay home is impossible when you don’t have a home, leaving those who sleep on the streets at enormous risk of COVID-19 during pandemic.
While Australia’s most populous state records some of the highest daily infection rates since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, health workers from St. Vincent’s Hospital are rolling up their sleeves to ensure the most vulnerable are getting vaccinated.
St. Vincent’s staffers are taking to the streets to care for the homeless and those living in temporary or social housing.
“If they won’t come to us, we’ll go to them,” said Danielle Austin, incident response and disaster manager.
Nationally, almost all of the 11,500 active cases of the delta variant are in New South Wales and, despite reaching the 6-million-jab milestone in a state with approximately 8.1 million people, urgent pleas are still being made to get vaccinated.
Austin, who has been operating out of the “Vax Van” for the past 18 months, said it was “the invisible people in our community” who were the first to answer the call to get vaccinated.
“To be honest, I think they just knew if it got in their community, they would all get it,” she said.
“We know that this is a population that’s extremely vulnerable and that if COVID does get to those sleeping rough, or populations in boarding houses or temporary accommodation, then it’s going to be extremely difficult to contain.”
She said the government vaccination program relies on “people having free internet access so that they can make bookings, which many of our rough sleepers don’t have, so we are making it extremely simple for people who may not have that free access to technology to stay safe and get vaccinated.”
Robert Norford, who has been living on and off the streets for several years, was one of the first to come forward and get vaccinated because he had become “even more isolated from his family due to the pandemic.”
“Getting vaccinated is like winning the lottery, I really just wanted to get the vaccine and get on with my life and let my family not stress out as much,” he said. “Now I have more chance of seeing my elderly mum and other members of my family that I have not been able to see for a long time.”
Cramsie is a writer and commentator for The Catholic Weekly, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Sydney.