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 SDCOE Teams Up to Warm Their Soles

When the San Diego County Office of Education's (SDCOE) Homeless Education Services team held a sock drive last fall, it was a grassroots effort.

This year, that sock drive is something bigger, thanks to SDCOE teaming with California Coast Credit Union. Meet Warm Their Soles, a monthlong campaign to collect new socks for children and teens experiencing homelessness.

The Warm Their Soles sock drive is ongoing throughout November, which is recognized nationally as Runaway and Homeless Youth Awareness Month.

Last year, the sock drive was spontaneous, the result of brainstorming between program aide Kymm Wolfe and project specialist Susie Terry as they considered activities to go along with the screening of a documentary about homeless youth.

"This year, with Cal Coast's help, we will simultaneously raise the community's awareness of this hidden population while generating this most-requested item," Wolfe said.

Of the nearly 23,000 children experiencing homelessness in San Diego County, an estimated 800 to 1,000 are unaccompanied youth. However, that estimate is far lower than the reality, said Michelle Lustig, SDCOE's director of Foster Youth Coordinating Services and Homeless Education Services. The unaccompanied youth are often an underreported or unreported group of the homeless population because these many of the teens are simply off the radar in hiding. Some outreach agencies report that up to 2,000 youth are unaccompanied. These adolescents are not in the custody of a parent or guardian, and they lack an adequate nighttime residence.

Socks may seem like an insignificant piece of any solution to homelessness, but the clothing item that many of us take for granted makes a difference to kids in need.

"These youth live in unsafe situations, including parks, public spaces, encampments, shelters, cars, and couch surfing," Wolfe said. "Many of these youth left home because of a severe family dysfunction, including abuse and neglect. Living in Southern California, we take our good weather for granted, but our evenings get cold and damp in the winter. A pair of new, clean socks could help make the night more bearable for these youth."

The San Diego Unaccompanied Youth Task Force, of which Terry is a member, also is participating in this year's sock drive, with member agencies collecting donations. Terry said the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) created task forces in select cities to facilitate inter-agency collaboration and services supporting unaccompanied youth.

"These local task forces recognize the urgency of young people's needs and are reaching immediate and long-term goals to prevent and end youth homelessness," Terry said.

Nearly 1,000 pairs of socks were collected in last year's grassroots campaign. This year, the Cal Coast-SDCOE team is aiming for 5,000. Socks of all sizes are requested, but the greatest need is seen for older teens. Socks must be new and remain packaged. Donations can be dropped off in bins at any San Diego County Cal Coast branch, and at these SDCOE locations: cafeteria and information office at the main campus, 6401 Linda Vista Road, San Diego; Homeless Education Services office in Old Town, 2878 Old Town Ave., Suite 200; North County Regional Education Center, 255 Pico Ave., San Marcos; East County Regional Education Center, 924 E. Main St., El Cajon; and South County Regional Education Center, 800 National City Blvd., National City. The campaign also includes an online component on Roonga, and the site includes a set-up for teams, if you're feeling competitive.

"We are looking forward to making a bigger impact this year for our youth in need thanks to the support of California Coast Credit Union," Terry said. Many people are surprised to learn that socks are such a big need for children and teens experiencing homelessness. With Warm Their Soles, we hope to not only fill this need, but to raise awareness of a vulnerable population of runaway and unaccompanied homeless youth."

The socks will be distributed at nonprofits that serve youth experiencing homelessness, including Stand-Up for Kids, The Storefront, Home Start, and SDCOE's own Monarch School.