An ever present part of Alaska’s population — whether you see them or not — are the homeless, or, as one woman working to combat the stigma this population faces calls it, the houseless.
Jocelyn Stanley, who goes by and performs musically as Foot, grew up in Alaska and graduated from Service High School, much like thousands of other young people have in this state. Then, her path went in a different direction. She spent several years bouncing around the Lower 48 between different variations of homelessness before returning and recently living and working in Homer for seven months.
“Long story short, I ended up communing with a homeless community,” she said.
After losing her wallet and ID, Foot said she finally experienced being homeless in the truest sense of the word for the first time. Now, she’s on a mission to make people think a little harder about how they treat people without a traditional home and to provide more resources to that population. And she’s figured out food, music and art are a good way to get people on board with that idea.
Foot is the founder of Houseless Records, a project which aims to destigmatize the homeless, or the houseless, through grassroots, community events that focus on music, art and advocacy.
Houseless Records is kicking off a Front Porch Tour with events in Anchorage and Homer before taking it all around the country. By the end of that tour, Foot hopes the project will have gained enough attention to really take off. While Houseless Records is not an official nonprofit and is currently being run predominantly by Foot with help from friends and likeminded people she’s met along the way, she said establishing an official nonprofit is a potential goal if the support and organization is there.
Coming off several events around Anchorage, the project next comes to Homer with a night of music and art starting at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 27 at Stowaway Cafe. There will be an open mic night from 6-7 p.m. followed by the official Houseless Records event until 9 p.m.
It will feature musical performances from local Homer area artists, including Foot, with art made by local creatives on display and for sale.
Foot said this venture is a way to get people to look differently at what being homeless really means.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about the homeless and there’s a lot of demonizing and dehumanizing,” she said.
Foot described times over the last four or so years during which she was truly without a home or many resources, but no one around her assumed that about her living situation because she was able to “clean up nice.” She said she was able to walk the line between homeless and housed throughout much of her time in the Lower 48.
“I got really inspired by that, by living between two worlds essentially and experiencing the struggles of homelessness down in the states,” Foot said.
That’s where she realized it’s a lot more complicated than just not having a house to go home to.
“House and home are different,” she said. “I’ve been houseless and felt like I had a home.”
Currently, Foot does not have a house but does have a car and many friends with which to stay in Anchorage. These resources make her feel like she can’t really define herself as homeless, she said.
The variability of the definition is an issue facing those working to combat homelessness in Alaska, where colder temperatures mean fewer people out on the streets in a visible fashion that aligns with a more traditional view of the homeless. Many people sleep on friends’ couches or in their cars.
This makes getting an accurate count of the people in Alaska without a stable home harder, according to local agencies that are currently trying to do that. Kenai Peninsula Journey Home, an organization based in the central Kenai Peninsula, works to bring resources to the peninsula’s homeless population. Several other organizations team up every year to host Project Homeless Connect, a one-day event that connects homeless people with resources like clothing, food and haircuts as well as contacts with job placement and housing resources.
Organizers of that event have said in the past that getting an accurate count of the homeless on the peninsula is difficult, which means inaccurate data is likely being sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is responsible for providing federal funding for homeless assistance programs.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District also does its best to keep track of homeless or near homeless students through its Students in Transition program. Each year, the program identifies and serves an average of 250 students in the district. When data on students being served by the program were reported in 2018, Homer had the highest number of students without stable housing out of other towns in the school district.
Though Houseless Records is relatively new and small in its reach so far, Foot hopes to provide resources and advocacy to houseless people in Alaska one small community event at a time. In addition to live music and art, each event also includes educational materials on all the local places the homeless can go to be connected with services.
“It’s a lot of collecting information and a lot of distributing,” she said.
Art for sale at each Front Porch Tour event is made by artists local to the area. Artists who align with the Houseless Records mission also choose a percentage of their profits to donate to the project, Foot said. Some even make art specifically for the project or tour.
Any extra funds collected from the tour events gets donated to a local, established nonprofit that is already working to help the homeless.
Another goal of the Front Porch Tour is to support homeless creatives who make musical or visual art.
Art is something Foot says helped keep her sane during her own experiences with homelessness, so it’s something she wants to work specifically to support in Alaska’s homeless. Many of the musicians on the Front Porch Tour are street musicians, and she also collects arts supplies to give to the homeless in addition to general fundraising.
Most of all, Foot said she hopes to connect people with tangible ways to help those in need through Houseless Records and specifically the Front Porch Tour, by making connections and providing information on local services and organizations with similar missions.
“My goal with these events is that I can kind of directly hand feed or connect people to something they can do (to help) if they want to,” she said.
For more information on the Houseless Records project and the Front Porch Tour, visit findfoot.org.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.