WATAUGA — With the administration of COVID-19 vaccines ramping up in Watauga County, AppHealthCare and the Hospitality House are working together to make sure those experiencing homelessness are getting their vaccines.

Melissa Bracey, a spokesperson for AppHealthCare, said the agency is working closely with the Hospitality House.

“We are still coordinating the logistics, but we hope to be able to go on-site to the Hospitality House to provide vaccinations,” Bracey said. “Thankfully, all the county vaccine providers are working together to coordinate and meet the needs of our community. High Country Community Health was recently able to take a vaccine transfer from us to help begin the process of vaccinating Hospitality House residents interested in being vaccinated.”

The Hospitality House is a regional nonprofit homeless services agency that provides housing, shelter, hunger relief and crisis assistance for Watauga, Avery, Wilkes, Ashe, Alleghany, Mitchell and Yancey counties.

Todd Carter, the director of development at the Hospitality House, said the nonprofit is working to get as many people vaccinated as possible, especially starting March 31 when the rest of Phase 4 — which includes those who have not received a vaccine yet and are experiencing homelessness or living in a homeless shelter — becomes eligible.

“Because of the kind of transient nature of some of our folks that aren’t living with us, we’re hoping to set up some sort of clinic when the next round of Johnson and Johnson comes in,” Carter said.

Carter said the organization has been able to vaccinate about 50 residents so far with 24 of those in Watauga County.

With the future clinic for those experiencing homelessness, Carter said they want to use the Johnson and Johnson vaccine since it is a one shot vaccine and people who are experiencing homelessness don’t have to come back.

So far, Carter said there has been some hesitancy among those at the shelter related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’ve embarked on an education campaign,” Carter said. “We’ve got information, pamphlets, at Hospitality House. So we’re able to answer questions that people have.”

Carter said there are some people who won’t take the vaccine, and he is hoping that number of those not taking the vaccine is very low.

Outside of those who live at and go to the Hospitality House often, the nonprofit also has a street team that meets people where they are.

“We have a street outreach specialist who is working in Watauga and with agencies across our seven-county region to identify people experiencing homelessness so we can get them connected to resources in addition to vaccine resources,” Carter said.

Before the Hospitality House moves back to a more normal operation outside of COVID-19, Carter said they want roughly 80 percent of staff and residents to be vaccinated.

Bracey said ensuring individuals who are experiencing homelessness have the opportunity to receive a vaccine is a priority for AppHealthCare

“The COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone and we do not require someone show ID to get a vaccine,” Bracey said. “When someone is vaccinated, it not only protects that individual but also the larger community. From a public health perspective, it is important that everyone has access to the vaccine and is able to be vaccinated.”

AppalCART is also offering free transportation to and from vaccine appointments if transportation is an issue for those wanting a vaccine. Those who need a ride to and from an appointment can call the AppalCART dispatch office at (828) 297-1300.

Those who need housing can inquire about availability by calling (828) 264-1237 ext. 0 or by email at ethan@hosphouse.org.

The food pantry remains open seven days a week from noon — 4 p.m. as drive-thru only. The Community Kitchen remains open seven days a week serving three meals a day to anyone who is hungry. Individuals and families not staying with us will be provided meals outside on our front porch in takeout containers, along with hot coffee, bottled water and cutlery kits.

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