STATEN ISLAND — Project Hospitality, one of the city’s only providers to operate both street outreach and shelter programs, will be helping to vaccinate dozens of homeless community members across Staten Island on March 27.
In conjunction with the city, the interfaith organization will make the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine available to those locally living on the streets and in encampments.
“The most important thing is to get people vaccinated, so they don’t get so sick,” Reverend Dr. Terry Troia, a Reformed Church in America minister who is president and chief executive officer of Project Hospitality, told Currents News. “With the one-shot, I think it is the solution for people who may not make it back the second time.”
“I never thought I’d live to see the day when we would be able to give vaccines to homeless people,” she also told The Tablet. “It’s coming so quickly now, and that’s such a great feeling because giving this vaccine to people is life-saving.”
Those living in homeless shelters — where sleeping, bathing, or eating accommodations must be shared with others who are not part of the same household — have been eligible to receive the vaccine since Jan. 11. The city administered more than 7,500 COVID-19 vaccines to social and homeless services clients as of mid-March. They have recently been using the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which does not require being stored at freezing temperatures or a second dose, to inoculate one of the city’s most vulnerable populations.
Project Hospitality has also been the only church-based shelter network in the city to remain open during the pandemic, aiding those living in homeless encampments and across their nine church-based shelters.
“Homelessness is on the brink of becoming a pandemic itself,” Rev. Troia said.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (which was completed before the pandemic), homelessness in the United States rose 2.2 percent last year. More than 580,450 people reported experiencing homelessness at the beginning of 2020.
As of March 24, the Department of Homeless Services reported that more than 51,000 people live in New York City shelters — nearly 90-percent of whom are Black and Hispanic.
Within the last year, Rev. Troia said she has seen more homeless people hunkering down in encampments due to loss of income and housing during the pandemic.
“I pretty much have my ear on the ground, and we’ve seen a much higher increase in the undocumented immigrant population,” she added, “primarily because people are being forced out of housing. I would say there’s probably at least 100 undocumented immigrants on the street right now living in secluded areas of Staten Island.”
Rev. Troia says the upward trend in homelessness can be turned around, especially if everyone does their part during the Lenten season.
“Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the three pillars of our spiritual life in this Lenten journey,” she said. “If our lives revolved around those three pillars every day — not just 40 days — we would be a holier and a more healthy world.”