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Port Arthur Strike Team brings COVID shots to homeless camps

Calvin Walker made the American Sign Language sign for “I love you” as he walked away from the Port Arthur Health Department’s COVID vaccination Strike Team.

With a bandage on his arm, the 27-year-old carried bottles of hand sanitizer back to a section of 9th Avenue where he lives.

The former foster child has experienced homelessness most of his adult life. But those with the health department knew him well, as he had grown up in the city.

“It’s so hard when it’s someone you know,” Health Director Judith Smith said, watching Walker walk away.

He was the first person at the homeless camp to receive a Johnson and Johnson one-dose vaccine.

The Strike Team arrived just after 1:30 p.m. Thursday to offer vaccinations to those that might not have the availability to make it to the hub on Cultural Center Drive. It was the third day for the health department to take shots on the road — vaccinating a crew of seafarers on Friday, going to the homes of bedbound residents Wednesday and visiting homeless camps Thursday.

“We brought blankets out here at Christmas,” Smith said of the 9th Avenue pavilion that was once a part of Howard’s Grocery. “When we had the big ice storm, I was just praying they still had the blankets.”

Tuyen Doan, 57, sits next to his tent on 9th Avenue. While he’s been living there for about 10 months, he was able to get a COVID vaccine at the library a few months ago, he said. (Monique Batson/The News)

In 2019, the city of Port Arthur estimated 63 adult residents were experiencing homelessness.

Tuyen Doan said a dozen lived at the 9th Avenue pavilion.

He’s been there approximately 10 months.

Doan, 57, was a welder, but can no longer work due to mental health issues.

Thursday he did not get a vaccine from the Strike Team, as he received the two-dose shot three months ago at a nearby library.

He took the bus for both, but has a bike next to his tent that serves as his daily transportation.

“I ride to hospitality to eat,” he said, referring to the Hospitality Center on Gulfway Drive.

When he told Strike Team members he had already been vaccinated, Doan was met with applause.

Not everyone opted to take one, but Smith said that was expected.

After 9th Avenue, the mobile vaccination unit was headed to Savannah and 7th Street, as well as other areas identified by community member Lynn Freeman.

Freeman was on site broadcasting live on Facebook, sharing the addresses of the next stops and asking Port Arthur residents to spread the word.

The Strike Team was developed with the help of a $740,000 grant. However, funds must last until 2024.

Homebound residents in Port Arthur, Nederland, Groves and Port Neches can call (409) 332-6180 to schedule an appointment.

The department is still providing free vaccines to anyone 12 and older at the Texas Artists Museum, 3501 Cultural Center Drive. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those needing the Pfizer vaccine for ages 12-17 are encouraged to call ahead first at (409) 332-6125 to ensure it is in stock.