Homelessness is now a qualifying factor for getting the COVID vaccine in California. This means that if you are homeless and over 18 years old, you can sign up for an appointment to get your shot. According to Alameda County Healthcare for the Homeless, homeless people are an explicitly eligible group because being unhoused means you may have to spend the night in a congregate setting, which puts you at greater risk of contracting the virus. All Californians over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on April 15. However, until then, only certain groups are eligible to get the shot. This guide will walk you through how to secure a COVID vaccine as a homeless person. 

How do I prove that I am homeless? 

In order to get the COVID vaccine as a homeless person, all you have to do is sign a piece of paper attesting under oath that you are homeless. You will do this once you have arrived at the location where you will receive your vaccine. When it comes to vaccine eligibility, a homeless person is defined as someone who: lives in places not meant for habitation (a car, park, abandoned building, or the streets); lives in an emergency shelter, transitional housing program or motel; is doubled-up (that is, lives in a temporary, unstable arrangement with friends or family members); or has recently been discharged from an institution with no resources to obtain housing (e.g. a hospital, jail, or mental health facility). You will not need to show your ID, or bring any other “proof” that you are homeless. 

How do I get a vaccine appointment? 

There are a number of places you can get the COVID vaccine in Alameda County. Here are several of the avenues through which you can find and receive the vaccine: 

Through your primary care provider 

Your healthcare provider could give you the COVID shot. Clinics including (but not limited to) Lifelong, Asian Health Services, the West Oakland Health Center, Alameda Alliance, and Roots, and providers such as Kaiser, Sutter Health, Stanford Health, and Alameda Health System are currently vaccinating their eligible clients. 

No matter who your healthcare provider is, chances are they will be able to help you get an appointment. Call to check in about whether they can help get you scheduled. 

On-site at shelters and behavioral healthcare programs 

Vaccines are also available for people who live at a shelter, a transitional housing program, or attend a behavioral healthcare program (such as a recovery program). If this describes your current situation, make sure to ask about when and how you can get your vaccine. 

At one of Alameda County’s community vaccination sites 

You can make an appointment to be vaccinated at one of Alameda County’s community vaccination sites. Those are: 

  1. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Schedule an appointment online at www.myturn.ca.gov or call 833-422-4255 
  2. Alameda County Fairgrounds (Drive-Thru Only). Call 510- 208-4829 or schedule an appointment online at www. alamedacountyfair.com/ covid-19-vaccine-information/ 
  3. Buchanan Parking at Golden Gate Fields. Schedule an appointment online at www. cityofberkeley.info/covid19-vaccine/ 
  4. Fremont High School (Oakland). Call 510-208-4829 to schedule an appointment 

Most of Alameda County’s community vaccination sites have a small number of vaccines set aside for people who are eligible but did not make an appointment. These slots are limited and in high demand, so making an appointment is a safer bet. 

Unfortunately, due to limited vaccine supply, it can be very difficult to schedule an appointment. If you are struggling to find an appointment, you can call 211, or register with MyTurn (www.myturn.ca.gov)—the state’s tool that allows Californians to sign up for notifications about scheduling an appointment. The Alameda County Health Department also launched a new hotline for people who cannot book an appointment online. The number is 510-208-4829. 

Through a mobile healthcare provider on the street 

There are 14 street health teams throughout Alameda County—operated by healthcare providers like Lifelong, Roots, Tiburcio, Bay Area Community Health, and Healthcare for the Homeless—that provide street-based health services in specific geographic zones. These providers are slowly starting to provide vaccinations for unsheltered homeless people in encampment settings and on the street. 

Currently, there is no set schedule for where and when these groups will be providing vaccinations. However, keep your eye out for them if you live outside. They are beginning to make their way through unsheltered settings and may land in your encampment soon. 

At your local pharmacy 

You can also try calling your local pharmacy to see if they’re offering the COVID-19 vaccine. Several pharmacies are also offering online appointments, though low vaccine supply means that it’s difficult to get an appointment. Some Bay Area pharmacies where you may be able to get vaccinated include CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Costco. 

Which vaccines will be available? 

Depending on where you are vaccinated, you will either get the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. According to the CDC, all the COVID vaccines are safe and effective. 

Frequently asked vaccine questions (courtesy of Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless) 

Will the vaccine make me sick? 

No. The most common side effect is soreness in the spot where you got the injection. Some people may have a mild fever, headache, or body aches the next day. These side effects are expected and go away quickly, usually within 2-3 days. 

I already had COVID-19. Do I still need the vaccine? 

Yes. The vaccine is recommended for people who have already been sick with COVID-19. 

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe? 

Yes. The CDC and other expert vaccine groups have determined that the vaccine is safe and effective. All COVID-19 vaccines being administered were tested in clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people to make sure they meet safety standards and protect adults of different ages, races, and ethnicities. Even after the vaccine has been authorized for use, the CDC and FDA will continue to monitor safety and efficacy. 

Will I have to pay for the vaccine? 

No, this vaccine is offered to you free of charge. But, you may be asked for your insurance information so that the vaccination team can bill your health insurance directly. 

Alastair Boone is the Director of Street Spirit.