CDPH and DFSS Join Shelter and Community Health Leaders to share updates on vaccination for residents experiencing homelessness

February 23, 2021

Chicago –The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) today joined leaders from Pacific Garden Mission, Lawndale Christian Health Center, and Heartland Alliance Health to administer COVID-19 vaccines to 170 Pacific Garden Mission staff and residents experiencing homelessness. Through ongoing relationships with shelters and community health providers, more than 2,000 initial doses of vaccine have so far been administered to staff and guests across Chicago’s homeless shelter system.


“Our vaccination strategy from day one has been to prioritize communities and settings that have been most impacted by COVID-19 and to distribute vaccine equitably,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. “We know that targeting the communities and congregate settings with the highest risk factors is the best way to protect those at greatest risk, and also reduce overall transmission in the City. It is our quickest path out of the pandemic.”


“I applaud the commitment and dedication shown by our homeless shelter partners to ensure sheltered residents have safe spaces and the necessary programs and services to help them stay healthy throughout the pandemic,” said DFSS Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler. “This kind of rapid response has made a world of difference and displayed a shared commitment to protecting our city’s most vulnerable residents.” 


From the very onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City has made the health and safety of residents experiencing homelessness a top priority. Providing healthcare, COVID-19 testing, and now vaccine distribution, to residents experiencing homelessness have been significant elements of the City of Chicago’s COVID-19 response.  In partnership with Lawndale Christian Health Center and Heartland Alliance Health, the City has prioritized building Shelter-Based Service Teams to provide on-site healthcare in every homeless shelter in Chicago. In addition to infection control for COVID-19, these teams also provide on-site behavioral health and primary care. Lawndale Christian Health Center and Heartland Alliance Health, in partnership with the City, are looking to address longstanding health inequities faced by residents experiencing homelessness.


DFSS, in partnership with All Chicago and the Chicago Continuum of Care (CoC), piloted an Expedited Housing Initiative (EHI) this past April in response to COVID-19. Clients in congregate homeless shelter settings who were considered high risk of COVID-19 complications due to older age or health, were placed in separate hotel rooms as a safety precaution and then linked to permanent housing. The EHI initiative is ongoing and aims at rapidly connecting residents experiencing homelessness to available rental subsidies and units by removing barriers such as income verification and other limitations that can impede rapid placement of the residents in rental units.


“While many cities are still developing plans, our city’s targeted, proactive campaign to vaccinate individuals experience homelessness began weeks earlier,” said Heartland Alliance Health’s Mary Tornabene. “Where other cities are just beginning outreach, we have been connecting trusted healthcare partners with dozens of shelters and vaccinating our most vulnerable neighbors at increasingly effective rates.”


“So far here at PGM, we have vaccinated 180 PGM guests and staff,” said Alex Porte, MD, Family Physician and PGM Site Medical Director, Lawndale Christian Health Center. “We are grateful that CDPH has prioritized people experiencing homelessness and Black and Brown people to receive the coronavirus vaccine, and we look forward to continuing the work with the city, PGM, and other partners to advance increased equity in health care and housing for persons experiencing homelessness.”


Lawndale Christian Health Center and Heartland Alliance Health have longstanding relationships with shelters, and account for most of the health care provided to residents experiencing homelessness in Chicago. These trusted relationships helped to quickly establish a COVID-19 vaccination program, with vaccine doses committed by the City, to efficiently vaccinate shelter residents and overcome any hesitancy to vaccination.


Total numbers of vaccines given to persons experiencing homelessness or the staff who serve them in Chicago, through 2-18-21


Lawndale Christian Health Center

Heartland Alliance Health

Haymarket through a special team






Total: 2,253