The Wool Sock Project

Mikey Huff dreamt up The Wool Sock Project as a way to learn more about the people that call Downtown home and give them something to make their days a little brighter. Huff photographs and takes the story of all the unsheltered folks he interacts with and then leaves them with a care package that includes wool socks. Huff continues the outreach of our Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Ltd. ambassadors, by treating our community members with kindness and respect, and by sharing their stories.

We ask that you make a donation to The Wool Sock Project by visiting HERE! or by donating socks, hand warmers, foot warmers, snacks, or other items to be included in the care packages to our office.

Downtown Anchorage has a number of stunning views. There is the Alaska Range that fills our skyline with peaks; a major tidewater inlet that presents as many unique vistas as there are sunsets dipping behind Sleeping Lady. On a clear day, you can even see the Great Mountain from the center of the state’s largest city. However, the most stunning image may just be the many unsheltered men, women, and youth that sleep outside night after night in temperatures that don’t seem survivable.

Sometimes life gets so busy that we forget to look up to the grandeur of the sky or look down to see precious life blanketed by circumstance. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by intractable social issues. That difficulty makes the story of local artist Mikey Huff that much more compelling. Huff, like many life-long Anchorage residents, found himself downtown on a walk earlier this year. It was on this trip that he was struck by the realization that he would subtly avoid, or in a way unconsciously accept, the unsheltered residents.

When Huff began to question his own preconceptions about homeless and transient people the ‘Wool Socks Project’ was born.

“The Wool Socks Project began with this idea that there is no such thing as homelessness. People don’t exist as demographics they exist as individuals,” explained Huff from inside the conference room at the Anchorage Downtown Partnership.

He decided that the best way to understand himself and his community was to go out downtown and meet, on an individual basis, as many of the unsheltered residents as he could. Armed with a duffle bag of wool socks he went around listening to stories and giving away the socks on an as-needed basis.

“Part of building a relationship with anyone is establishing trust. It is about saying that you are going to do something or be somewhere and then follow through,” Huff said.

Initially, Huff found it hit or miss to break through the invisible social barrier that exists between different demographics that call downtown home. Over the summer he linked up with the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Ltd. Security Ambassadors and started to go out with them as they canvassed the improvement district. In addition to logistical help, The Partnership provided seed money for Huff to put together a little better care package. In addition to the wool socks, there are now hand-warmers, feet-warmers, and a snack. Huff hopes that soon he will be able to put more nutritious and filling food items in the care packages.

As with most pursuits, there is a personal element in this for Huff.

Mikey’s great-grandfather lived in Anchorage, with and without housing. John Stripe was a veteran of WWII and came home without the use of his legs. He spent many years of his life advocating for handicap accessibility in the city and even marched in demonstrations at the nation’s Capitol on crutches. Huff recalls stories of his great-grandfather.

“He lived in a two-story walk-up and did it on crutches without a complaint. He was was so active later in life that people didn’t even consider him disabled. I do wish that we had photographs of him from later in life,” said Huff.

The idea to start documenting the Wool Socks Project with photographs in addition to the journals and conversations began as an homage to remembering the life of John Stripe. Huff hopes that someday the accounts of the rich and meaningful lives that are led by the people he encounters is seen and heard by the family and friends of those folks that call downtown home.

Huff does not have a political agenda or even a recommendation for action. For him, The Wool Socks Project is a way to find a solution within himself and to document his journey. He intends to make better care packages and to continue to listen and take notes.

“When I make a portrait, or share a meal or just say hello to a person by name, I feel like I am seeing through the illusion of homelessness as this monolithic thing,” said Huff. “That simple connection between two people humanizes and individualizes them to each other and all of a sudden we’re just people hanging out together.”

The idea to exchange names and share a short conversation with someone not like yourself is not revolutionary. But in this time of heightened polarization and social divide, there is something remarkable about it. While the Wool Socks Project may not have the splash or grand design of other initiatives we have seen rolled out over the years in Anchorage, it has heart. And if you see a young guy with a camera around his neck walking around Anchorage, that might not be a tourist, it may just be a local guy who’s found a deeper appreciation for the place he calls home.  

The Wool Socks Project is an ongoing collaboration between Mikey Huff and Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Ltd. The documentation and presentation is evolving. At present, there are slated to be another four articles in the Anchorage Press and an online gallery. You can find more about the project and donate on the site www.woolsock.org. You may also bring wool socks or hand-warmers to the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Ltd. during business hours Monday through Friday. To contact The Wool Socks Project email info@woolsock.org.