The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity welcomes the news that the state will be vaccinating people experiencing homelessness beginning next week.

We have long advocated that people experiencing homelessness should be prioritized for a vaccination. Why? Because people experiencing homelessness are much more likely than the general population to have chronic medical conditions along with mental health and substance use conditions. In addition, homelessness is already a deeply traumatic experience.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration people experiencing homelessness for even a brief duration can be traumatized by the sudden loss of a home and by adjusting to conditions on the street or in a shelter.

Individuals and families experiencing homelessness are often the most marginalized, isolated, and discriminated against. CVOEO believes that housing is a basic human right and that as a society we have failed when individuals and families experience homelessness. The least we can do in lieu of that failure is to provide safe and affordable housing to ensure individuals and families receive a measure of public health protection through a vaccination.

CVOEO is operating one of the state’s largest emergency housing shelters in South Burlington along with a daytime warming center in Burlington. We know, firsthand that this pandemic has increased the trauma, loneliness and disconnection among people experiencing homelessness. What affects others ultimately affects us all. It is our collective responsibility to do all we can to provide people with a home of their own and until then to provide a measure of health and safety when we can. We are so thankful to our state partners at the Agency of Human Services and Department of Public Health for seeing the risk and providing a solution.

We often turn away from people who are homeless thinking there is some personal or perhaps moral failure in what we see. In fact, it is society that has failed them.

Now it is time and our duty as a society during this pandemic to provide them with a vaccine and some measure of relief.

Paul Dragon is the Executive Director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity

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