Cambridge sock drive raises awareness for city’s homelessness problem

Juliette Piovoso, news correspondent

The City of Cambridge’s Warm Hearts for Warm Feet sock drive returned for its sixth consecutive year, from Feb. 1 to Feb. 14, to collect wool socks for unhoused residents.  

According to a press release, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon, alongside other partnering organizations, first had the idea to start this drive in 2018 when they noticed homeless shelters lacked a very specific resource — socks. 

With the goal of collecting and donating 2,500 wool socks to unhoused residents, the city of Cambridge set up donation locations at City Hall, Cambridge Naturals, T.J.Maxx in CambridgeSide, Hilton’s Tent City and Cambridge Police Department Headquarters. 

Following the arctic cold front that made its way across New England Feb. 4 and 5, the need for warm, durable socks is now not merely a want for many of Cambridge’s homeless people but a need, officials said. 

“When the mayor and I went to many of the city’s homeless shelters, they mentioned that these people never had enough wool socks; that was such a huge need for a couple of reasons, including the fact that you can experience frostbite at just 40 degrees,” Mallon said. 

While Mallon and Siddiqui recognize organizing a sock drive won’t end homelessness, this drive’s overarching purpose is to raise awareness, they said. 

“Aside from the sock drive, we are making sure to put funds towards permanent housing projects,” Siddiqui said. “We are additionally trying to ensure that the number of shelter beds in the city doesn’t decrease and have also been hiring more housing navigators to help individuals apply for housing.” 

In an affluent city like Cambridge, many people overlook the presence of homelessness. Elizabeth Pierre, the communications manager for the mayor’s office, said homelessness in Cambridge is an epidemic in desperate need of a solution.

“Cambridge, in many ways, prides itself on being the hub of innovation. We have places like Kendall Square with all of these biotech startups and innovative policies, yet the hard and bitter fact is that we still have a lot of people in our city who are struggling. Some of our residents don’t even know when they’re going to have their next meal,” Pierre said. 

Boston and Cambridge’s historically high rent has made it difficult for those living paycheck to paycheck. 

According to Boston Agent Magazine, in the fourth quarter of 2022, Boston’s rent was up a staggering 24% since 2021, with an increase in the average rental, rising from $3,130 to $3,876. 

Mallon said in addition to unaffordable housing costs, a lack of mental health services, rehabilitation programs for people with addiction and human service and public health gaps have also contributed to the uptick in Cambridge’s homeless population.

“We’re all just one or two paychecks away from being on the streets ourselves. So, talking about these issues and realizing how many folks are suffering out there is important,” Mallon said.  

Both Siddiqui and Mallon emphasized how the sock drive has ultimately helped the Cambridge community. 

“The impact is definitely a positive one. People can get really cynical about solutions concerning ways to help people in great need,” Siddiqui said. “This drive is a tangible way that you can make an effort. All you have to do is simply buy something and donate it. I’m glad we can contribute to the homeless community in this way.”