Winter is the hardest time of year for the homeless that are sleeping outside. For whatever reason, whether it be mental or social issues, bad experiences in the shelters or just the fact that a husband and wife don't want to be separated by having to go to different shelters - many tough it out in tents and under bridges and walk the streets of Cleveland during the day. One thing that has made their lives a lot easier over the years is the ability of outreach workers to provide them with socks, gloves, hats, warm clothing and boots. These items make a big difference to homeless families, couples and individuals. The SocksPlus Campaign for Cleveland’s Homeless created by the Community West Foundation has made that possible. This campaign is and has been making an impact on Cleveland’s homeless population for the last few years. Started in the winter of 2014/2015, it has grown into a huge undertaking with people from every community involved. Children are even making appeals and having collection drives across the Northeastern Ohio area to collect items that outreach workers can take to those who live outside. Collection drives are sponsored by businesses, organizations and diverse groups. They are popping up everywhere and they are a wonderful source of provision for those in need!
One of the most difficult tasks an outreach worker can have is to approach a homeless individual who is not dressed correctly for the weather. They are cold and suffering, some have frostbite and cannot stop shivering. Before SocksPlus, it was common to see homeless individuals with bags tied over their tennis shoes to serve as boots. It was normal to find individuals with holes in their shoes and wet socks and feet. It was typical to find people suffering without gloves, hats and warm socks. It was never easy knowing that people were suffering in the cold and you have no hats or gloves or socks to give them to provide some warmth. Before the SocksPlus campaign outreach workers would have to call on churches and put out notices of what was needed for an individual and what sizes was needed and then wait. It could take days or a week to get an individual geared up with warm socks, boots, gloves and a hat. They were definitely hard to come by because there were so many who were sleeping outside and they all needed winter gear once the weather started changing. The SocksPlus campaign by Community West Foundation has made that difficult task experienced by outreach workers as easy as a trip to NEOCH offices to get winter gear for clients.
Thanks to the SocksPlus Campaign, since its inception, NEOCH has given out over 500 pairs of brand new winter boots, thousands of pair of warm, heavy winter socks, thousands of pairs of gloves and hats. The supply seems to come as the needs occur. SocksPlus has provided an endless supply of socks and winter apparel for those who need them the most. The SocksPlus campaign has taken the sting out of the suffering of having freezing hands and feet as outreach workers now have supplies of socks, gloves and hats in their vehicles and they can bring their clients to NEOCH offices to get a warm pair of new men’s and women’s boots for unsheltered clients. This helps in another way too. It allows the outreach worker to get to the task at hand, finding housing and shelter and help for these individuals, some who have been newly evicted from their homes and don’t know where to turn.
Outreach workers see the most suffering in the winter. There is a look in someone’s eyes when they have had enough and are on the verge of giving up. Finding men and women so cold that they can't stop shivering is never easy. We know how bad it can be in bad weather to walk from a car to a building. Can you imagine having no warm building to go to when your home is a tent in the woods? Campfires help but it is not the same as being able to go inside to warm up. It is very difficult for those who chose to stay outside - they can't even keep their water from freezing.
All of us working together to do a little part is what is needed to bring hope and provisions to those who are caught in the terrible situation of becoming homeless. Homelessness is not just their problem - it is ours also. We can all do something. We can give to the SocksPlus Campaign. We can collect socks, blankets, hats and gloves, hoodies and coats that can be distributed by outreach workers. We can encourage people experiencing homelessness who we meet with a friendly greeting. We can buy 1 extra can of soup when we go shopping. We can keep $5.00 McDonald’s gift cards in our cars. There is a lot each of us can do. Not all are comfortable to go out to the streets, but we all can do something to make a difference in the lives of people who are suffering with homelessness. In winter, it is especially urgent - needing a pair of boots or gloves and having to wait can mean the difference between suffering and comfort and having warm feet.
We are so thankful for the Community West Foundation and the SocksPlus Campaign. It has made life so much easier for outreach workers to have the tools needed to provide some of the basic needs of homeless individuals. You can donate to SocksPlus.
The staff at NEOCH