Originally for The Northern Light.
More often than not, we go about our days rushed to work or school not noticing the people we cross paths on a daily basis. As we drive ourselves to our destinations, we subconsciously let our surroundings blend in to each other and ignore the people who stand on the sidewalks with a sign in their hands.
“Time is more valuable than money or resources,” says Mikey Huff, a local Anchorage photographer and artist who created the Wool Sock Project that aims to supply the homeless community on a one-on-one basis with care packages to make their lives a little better.
Huff has been a downtown business owner for a while and had his own store. He is familiar with the downtown community and the homeless folks that pass by his former shop. With these encounters and compassion for these unsheltered individuals, the Anchorage Downtown Partnership (ADP) was able to give him a little bit of seed money to expand the care packages.
Before he had help from ADP, Huff loaded a backpack full of wool socks and walked the streets of downtown interacting with those that needed some warmth from the rigid Alaskan cold. “I came across the fact that socks are the number one requested items in the homeless shelters,” acknowledged Huff. Including the wools socks, these care packages now include handwarmers, feet warmers, granola bars, trail mix, and other necessities.
Along with the care packages are the intimate conversations documented through photographic stories of these individuals.
“I mean, just a smile and nod just to remember that’s a human there. Even just a small active of learning someone’s name and being like, ‘Oh, Peanut. How are you doing today, brother?’ That means a lot to people.”
As he walks the downtown streets alongside the ambassadors of ADP, Huff carries his care packages and camera humbled to connect with the homeless community by learning their names, having a conversation, and creating trust with each person he meets.
He recalls a night of working on his photographs at Black Cup. Huff was heading out to his car when he found a group of gentlemen near the former Blockbuster building. He approached them and asked if they needed anything. He sat down with them for a couple of minutes and gave them each care packages. “[I] gave them a few things that only costed me a few dollars each…For them, it made a huge impact.”
The Wool Sock Project not only supports the homeless community by giving way to the individualization of these folks, the project has also helped Huff gain a personal perspective about his outlook of life. “I think about the small things that I get worried about and the things that upset me. But then I remember I have a roof under my head, a bedroom I get to go home to at night, and a bed I can sleep in…Things like that really humble me, and that reminds me that my life is pretty damn good.”
Huff’s compassion for these folks has held a significant value, for he was in the same position as they were. He had been homeless twice in his life: Oregon and Pennsylvania. “While I have not experienced homelessness on an Alaskan level which is, I believe, far worse than the areas where I was homeless—I can understand just at least a small degree of the struggles associated with that.”
The project challenges the negative preconceptions of the homeless community by giving each individual visibility through photos and their stories. Huff does not believe that there is such a thing as a ‘homeless problem.’ He believes that these people have individual problems that may lead to homelessness. “Each of us have issues. So, I think when you start to remove it from a big scale…, then you can start to develop a further compassion for those people.”
The Wool Sock Project does not have any intentions for the Anchorage community to call for action. Huff explains how he can only share his experiences through the project and its impact on his life. “I think we’re groomed and told that with our skills and resources we’re supposed to build up our own empire. I think that if you’re able to step away from that and think about how you can, instead, build up those around you, then that’s when we see progress in the world.”
In the near future, Huff and ADP are developing community involvement projects, such as a sandwich making party. Volunteers will be able to help by spreading peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for these folks.
Donations can be accepted through the woolsock.org website. Physical donations, such as wool socks and hand warmers, can be given to the Anchorage Downtown Partnership office on 333 W 4th Ave., Suite 317.