I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the first guy to give socks to homeless people. But I can almost guarantee no one has handed out socks to as many homeless people in as many cities and countries as I have. In the last 10 years, I have traveled to over 300 cities and eight different countries handing out socks and making new homeless friends. I thought it would be a good idea to put together a “how-to” guide on handing out socks to people experiencing homelessness.
But, before I begin with the how, let’s first discuss the why.
There are reasons handing out socks is so important. First, socks are a real need to homeless people. Imagine you have to store all your clothes and belongings in a backpack carried with you all day. Maybe you’ve got two pairs of jeans, a couple of shirts, a couple of pairs of underwear, and some socks. And, socks get dirty. They get dirty fast.
What happens is homeless people wash their feet, but often they have to put dirty socks back on. While surprisingly simple, new socks are gold to homeless people because they feel good and help defend from several health problems. As one woman put it, brand new socks are “snuggly and comfy.”
Homeless people are getting sandwiches all day long, but very rarely do they receive socks. By handing out socks, you’re helping with a genuine need and creating a nonverbal connection that says, “You know something about homelessness. You care.”
Another reason to give out socks is it feels good helping somebody else. Sometimes when I’m feeling down or a little depressed, I will fill my backpack with a couple of bags of socks and go hand them out to homeless people and make some new friends. My problems don’t go away, but I gain a new perspective that helps me deal with life. I guarantee when you’re giving other people the gift of brand new fresh socks, you’re going to get all kinds of amazing responses back — from smiles to jumps for joy. I even had a homeless youth once yell, “White gold.” It will recharge you.
I often get asked by people, “There’s a homeless person in my neighborhood. I see him. I walk by him. I want to know his story.” Break the ice by giving some socks and then listen.
There’s a lot of different ways that you can hand out socks. You can, like me, carry socks in your backpack. Maybe carry a couple of pairs in your purse or in your briefcase. You can keep a couple of pairs in your glove box for when you’re at that exit ramp, and there’s a homeless person, and maybe the light turns red and it’s a little awkward. Take that awkward moment and turn it into something beautiful by handing the homeless person some socks.
Now let’s look at the how to give socks.
The number one question I get is, “What kind of socks do I give away?”
The only style of sock you should buy is men’s white crew socks. Don’t buy the “no-shows.” Don’t buy tube socks. Don’t buy ankle socks. And don’t buy black socks. People prefer white socks over black socks. Occasionally, I will take black socks and white socks with me and give people a choice; 99 out of 100 times a homeless person will choose white socks.
I personally recommend Hanes socks. They are wonderful, comfortable socks at a fantastic price. For the cost of one sock from one of the buy-one-give-one brands, you can buy 12 pairs of Hanes socks, which means you can give out six pairs of socks and keep six pairs if you want. Or you can give out all 12 pairs of socks for the price of 1 pair of the BOGO socks.
In the interest of full disclosure, Hanes occasionally hires me as a consultant and donates socks to Invisible People, but I am not being compensated for this post in any way. Rather, Hanes is simply the best sock for you to give to homeless people. I want homeless people to have socks. I want them to have quality socks, so I recommend Hanes.
My next tip is safety first : If you don’t feel safe, don’t engage with someone. Now, this is not just homelessness. We live in a really scary world. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t go down that street. If you don’t feel comfortable when somebody tries to panhandle, don’t engage and give them socks. You have to feel safe and comfortable wherever you are. Your safety comes first.
I try to give every homeless person two pairs of socks. Sometimes that’s not possible. If I walk into a group that’s rather large, then maybe I’ll go down to one pair of socks. If the group is way too big, I may not even give socks at all, because when I went to school the teacher said, “If you don’t have enough gum to give to everybody in the class, don’t bring it out.” I go by that rule.
Last, but far from least is have fun. Some of the most amazing moments of my adult life have been out on the streets with a backpack full of socks making new homeless friends. Helping somebody in crisis with something so simple as a pair of new socks makes you feel grateful for what you have because when you hand them new socks, you’re going to see an amazing smile, shouts for joy, and you’re just going to go, “Wow. My life. I was upset about this today, and this person is happy just because they got new socks?” It’s an amazing experience.