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Why are socks important to the homeless?

People experiencing homelessness desperately need new socks, and there are several reasons why.

Socks are rarely donated

When you think about the items you regularly donate to charity, you will likely think of clothes that no longer fit or that you no longer wear. They are in good condition and able to be worn many times more by their new owner. But your socks? They're generally well-worn or worn out, and end up as rags or in the bin. This means socks aren't readily available for those in need.  A person experiencing homelessness asking for new clothes at a shelter will normally be provided with the clothing they need - besides socks!

Surveys regarding the clothing needs of the homeless show that socks are the number one requested item. But why are new socks so important for those experiencing homelessness? 

To Keep Feet Warm

Clean, dry socks provide a layer of warmth to protect feet and toes from the cold. It's difficult to keep feet dry when you spend the majority of your time outside, especially in extreme heat, cold or rain. 

Socks are Rarely Taken Off 

When you live outside, there is no carpet or flooring to walk on barefoot. If you take off your shoes and socks, the ground can be either too hot or cold to walk on and your feet get covered in dirt. Many opt to leave their shoes and socks on to try and keep their feet clean and protected. Over time, socks don't get to air out and become stiff and uncomfortable. Eventually this discomfort means they're thrown out.

No Place to Wash

Socks are worn day after day, and without access to a washing machine or dryer at home, laundry needs to be done at a laundromat. However this costs money, and without money when your socks get stiff and smelly, the only option is to throw them out. Not having funds to wash also means there are no funds to buy new stocks. 

Why can't people without a home just wash their socks in a sink? While washing socks in a sink might remove the smell, it doesn't revive the fabric. After going for long periods of time without washing, socks become hard and worn. It's also difficult to dry them, especially in poor weather, and while moving from place to place.

Foot Protection

Socks are a practical, functional item that decrease friction between a shoe and the foot. Socks also provide cushioning for the sole of the foot. Preventing friction is an important consideration, as friction can lead to thickened skin on the feet, which can cause painful calluses or corns. Calluses or corns can make you feel like there is a rock in your shoe when you walk.

Homeless people with medical conditions such as diabetes can also suffer from a condition called polyneuropathy. This condition means the affected person loses nerve function and can't feel irritation of the feet. The thickened skin, left untreated, can form an ulcer which can become infected and cause cellulitis, blood poisoning or even deep bone infections. Treatment of infections in the lower bone extremities by antibiotics is mostly not effective, leaving amputation as the only solution. 

Prevention of infection

Dry, clean feet and socks can prevent infections such as tinea, fungal infections and plantar warts. These problems are painful for any sufferer, but they can be crippling when you don't have a home where you can rest and recover.

Tinea, commonly known as athlete's foot, is a fungal infection of the skin. We all have some form of fungi on our skin, but we don't all become infected with tinea. While all of the factors that cause a tinea infection aren't well known, we do know that fungus likes warm, most, dark places. Clean socks create a dry later to slow the growth of fungus, and reduce the skin's contact with bacteria.  Tinea can cause blisters between the toes, and can create itching and burning. If left untreated, these dry areas can split open and cause bacterial infections. 

Fungal nail infections are the nail manifestation of tinea. There are four categories of infection, but the most common type causes thickness and wasting away of the nail. The thickness can be painful, and also breaks down the surrounding skin. This leads to an infected ingrown nail. Socks can prevent fungal nail infections the same way they protect against athlete's foot.

Plantar warts are caused by a virus, and can't be treated by anti viral drugs. It is understood the virus can enter the skin through broken skin or another area of trauma, which can be caused by walking without shoes, or not wearing socks with shoes.  Once the virus enters the skin as a lesion it resembles a callous under the skin, and can multiply causing extensive pain. 

Social considerations

Surveys of people experiencing homelessness show that the embarrassment associated with the smell of feet, and the poor condition of shoes or socks, are a reason why people don't access readily available foot care services. One individual's response was that only "those who are willing to be embarrassed" would use these services. By not accessing foot health care services, people experiencing homelessness are missing out on much-needed preventative care to improve their quality of life. Providing clean, new socks can provide the confidence for those in need to access much-needed health services.


Human consideration

The average person living on the street walks long distances. They walk to medical appointments, work opportunities, government agencies and walk on their search for food banks and shower facilities. That can add up to many pairs of worn through socks and shoes, and very sore feet. On top of that, a painful foot infection makes it difficult to get to important, possibly life-changing appointments like job interviews and rental home opens. 

For a person experiencing homelessness, a pair of new socks is much more than just another item of clothing. Clean socks contribute to healthy feet, which are the key to mobility.

So how can you help? You can donate new socks to organisations that directly support people experiencing homelessness, such as Socks for Cooper.

How do we help? Sockable Fundraising regularly donates socks to Socks for Cooper. By supporting Sockable Fundraising, you're supporting Socks for Cooper too.