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17 year-old girl collected and donated thousands pairs of shoes for homeless people

March 20, 2021 | 08:02

Lindsay Sobel, a 17-year-old girl living in Chatsworth, California, has collected nearly 30,000 pairs of worn down shoes and came up with the idea of "Shoes for Souls", a charity that helps homeless people in her hometown.

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Lindsay Sobel was a mere youngster when she realized that she could grant her unused shoes a new life instead of letting them collect dust somewhere behind a dark closet. At the age of 13, she came up with the idea of collecting gently worn shoes and donating them to the homeless. According to Los Angeles Daily News, Sobel initially managed to collect 30-40 pairs of shoes from her collection and that of her parents and younger twin siblings. And this was only the beginning of Shoes For Souls.

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Lindsay Sobel with some of the shoes she has recently collected for donation to the homeless outside her Chatsworth home, CA., December 3, 2020. Sobel, a junior at Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth, created a charity called Shoes for the Souls in 2016 and has collected 30,000 plus for the homeless since then. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“I wanted to do something that would have a long-lasting impact that I could do for a number of years and then pass on to my younger sister and help as many people as possible,” Lindsay said, adding the family’s shoes were ones they kept but never wore anymore and realized there are probably other families just like them.

Four years later, Lindsay, who was named 2017 Chatsworth Youth of the Year, has collected around 30,000 pairs of shoes city-wide and sees that the homeless are walking in them, according to Los Angeles Daily News.

She and her family rent SUVs and literally goes from porch to porch in a caravan picking up the donated shoes and distributing them among two nonprofits, shelters and various city parks where homeless shelters have been set up.

In April, she reached out to her club volleyball team, CITY Volleyball Club, and in one day picked up 2,000 shoes from 50 home porches city-wide.

Then on Nov. 29 in a caravan of three cars driven by her mother, her father and her grandfather, the Sobel family collected 1,100 women and men work shoes, daily wear shoes, women’s heels and workman boots donated by Chatsworth and Porter Ranch residents. That batch is earmarked to go to Shoes for the Homeless, Inc., a public benefit company committed to providing shoes to those in need in local communities throughout the United States.

“This morning we laid out every single pair of shoes on our driveway,” she said on Dec. 4. “We see what types of shoes we have and based on that we determine where we will donate them.”

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Shoes that Lindsay Sobel has recently collected for donation to the homeless outside her Chatsworth home, CA., December 3, 2020. Sobel, a junior at Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth, created a charity called Shoes for the Souls in 2016 and has collected 30,000 plus for the homeless since then. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

What started as a plan for a community project to meet the requirements of her Bat Mitzvah, quickly turned into a full-fledged effort to give back to society's most needy. "I wanted to do something that would have a long-lasting impact that I could do for a number of years and then pass on to my younger sister and help as many people as possible," expressed Sobel. She explained that the shoes collected from her family were just sitting in their house as they did not wish to wear them anymore even though they were in good condition, according to McGill Media.

While attending a basketball game at LA's Staples Center arena, Sobel was shocked to see the huge number of homeless people in the area. "I noticed a lot of them were in really awful living conditions, no way any person should have to live. On top of that, I noticed a lot of them did not even have shoes on," she said according to A Might Girl. This is when "it kind of put things into perspective for me" and she realized that there were other families like hers who had unused shoes that could be handed out to people who would actually use them.

"The challenge for me is that there are this many homeless people right now and the challenge for me is how can I help as many of them as possible," she explained. "Being able to see the work that I’m doing really pay off and help so many different people … when I went to the Long Beach Mission it was a chance to see who I’m giving the shoes to in person. I felt pretty good about myself and great about the community. It also makes me sad to see how big it is and how many things really need to be done."

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Lindsay Sobel with some of the shoes she has recently collected for donation to the homeless outside her Chatsworth home, CA., December 3, 2020. Sobel, a junior at Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth, created a charity called Shoes for the Souls in 2016 and has collected 30,000 plus for the homeless since then. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Her father, David Sobel, said the most important thing he has learned through his daughter’s journey is that even though society can be divided at times, when there’s a need Los Angelenos from many different backgrounds have recognized homeless issues and are ready to step up to help.

“We all take for granted the whole walking in shoes … and we are on our phones to see how many miles we walk in a given day,” the elder Sobel said. “We take for granted how much walking the homeless do in a given day and how important having shoes are to them. You try and walk barefoot without shoes for three or four miles a day and see how your feet are and your lower back.”

He thinks his daughter has learned a valuable lesson in philanthropy and can take it wherever she attends college.

“It has been so successful because it’s not a hard thing to ask people to do,” he said. “We aren’t asking for money; we aren’t asking for something people don’t have. Every person, in their garage or in their closet, has five pairs of shoes they don’t use anymore. It’s something easy.”

The dreadful numbers of homelessness in the United States

In 2019, there were about 567,715 homeless people living in the United States. While this number had been steadily decreasing since 2007, in the last two years it has started to increase.

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Photo: Latimes

It is hard to calculate homelessness for several different reasons. It is hard to find how many homeless people are there because there is no direct definition for homelessness and it is hard to find every single homeless person that exists. Sometimes they are not able to be reached, leaving people unaccounted for. In the United States, the Department of Housing and Urban Development calculates the homeless population by counting the number of people on the streets and the number of people in homeless shelters on one night each year. According to this count, New York City is the city with the largest number of homeless people in the United States, according to Statista website.

Between 2018 and 2019, New Mexico saw the highest increase in the number of homeless people. However, in 2019 California had the highest number of homeless people living there. A large part of the homelessness in California is a result of multiple factors, one of them being the extreme high cost of living, as well as opposition to mandatory mental health counseling and drug addiction. However, the District of Columbia that had the highest estimated rate of homelessness per 10,000 people. This was followed by New York state, Hawaii, California and Oregon.

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Photo: AP News

Most studies show that substance abuse, physical and mental disability are more common among homeless people than in the general population. The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation estimates that at least a quarter of homeless people are severely mentally ill. A 2003 study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration found that 38% of homeless people were dependent on alcohol and 26% used other drugs, Bloomberg CityLab reported.

However, it’s often difficult to say whether or not these conditions precipitated an individual’s fall into homelessness, since the brutal experience of homelessness itself can so easily exacerbate them. Additionally, treatment for addiction or mental illness, as well as other health conditions, becomes very difficult when an individual is living on the street.

These factors exist before the backdrop of a huge shortage of affordable housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has calculated a nationwide shortage of more than 7 million homes affordable to those with extremely low incomes. This cohort lives on the brink of homelessness, and any number of factors could push them over the edge, especially in the most expensive cities. A 2018 Zillow study illustrates this connection, showing how rising rents are a strong indication of increases in homelessness.

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