If you live in Portland, there is a sad reality that is becoming more apparent with each passing day. We are a city where an estimated 16,000 of our fellow citizens live day-to-day without a home, or find themselves in “underhoused” situations—they rely on friends, shelters and their vehicles to provide them with a place to stay.
The heartbreaking rows of lean-tos and makeshift tents that line Portland’s streets, parks and highways are visual reminders that our city has a long way to go. Surely this can’t be happening in the wealthiest country in the world, we tell ourselves.
Due to a rise in rental properties and other conditions, we are facing an epidemic of people which is forcing people to turn to the streets.
The problem seems overwhelming, and many of us are left feeling helpless and with no clear idea as to what we can do to make things better.
By looking north to Seattle as our inspiration, we’ve developed a plan that aims to offer necessities to those who are currently “underhoused.”
Beginning on the first of December, Oregon’s Cannabis Concierge (OCC) will launch “Box Of Socks,” a program that will provide two very basic items that make a world of difference—clean socks and feminine hygiene products. The items will be made available for free throughout the city via a dozen repurposed newspaper boxes. Each box will be finanacially supported by a sponsor to help cover the cost of stocking it with clean new and used socks and packages of sanitary pads and tampons.
Why these items? For women, feminine hygiene items are an ongoing and important need which costs money to procure every month, and which may exceed the budget of anyone experiencing homelessness.
For both men and women, clean, dry socks can prevent a wide range of serious health issues. Wearing wet socks, or no socks at all, can lead to blisters, infections, ulcers and if a condition called Neuropathy develops, potential amputations. This is especially true for Diabetics, Alcoholics and those on HIV medications, three groups often found in the homeless community.
A post on Facebook led OCC Director Joshua Taylor to start the program, which is modeled after an effort in Seattle started by the nonprofit “WeCount.org.” WeCount uses an app to help match up specific requests from those in need with people wishing to give, allowing individuals to make specific requests for items like sleeping bags, clothing and hygiene products. After reading about one of their programs, which provides socks in the greater Seattle area through placement into donated newspaper boxes, Taylor knew the program would be beneficial in Portland.
“The Cannabis community is generous beyond measure,” says Taylor, “and I knew that if we presented them with a program that could make a real difference, they would step up.”
Dispensaries were recruited as both Box Sponsors, and as drop off points for donations. Some dispensaries even offer incentives for those who opt to donate and participate in the project.
Unlike the social service agencies that work with the homeless population, the boxes are open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and are spread out throughout the city in areas that are easily accessible to those who need them.
“Box of Socks is just one piece in the puzzle that will address the issue of homelessness,” continues Taylor, “as anyone who has ever had to wear a wet pair of socks can attest, it’s uncomfortable, cold and a real drag. Giving someone access to a pair of clean, dry socks isn’t only a mood changer, it can help that person stay healthy.”
The holiday season can be a daunting time for many of us, as we struggle to find meaning in a time that seems devoted to hyper consumerism. Buying things for ourselves we don’t need hardly seems keeping with the spirit of the season. Helping make someone’s life better can help us rediscover the wonder and magic of the holidays. It’s as simple as rummaging through your sock drawer.