USUAA Winter Gear Drive helps homeless in our community

by Catalina Myers  |   

USUAA has partnered with local nonprofit organizations to provide gently used or new winter gear items for those experiencing homelessness in the community. Donations are accepted in designated bins in the Student Union, UAA/APU Consortium Library and Gorsuch Commons until Nov. 30. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

 In 2019, Muhammad Khan found himself inadvertently locked out of his car in the sweltering 100-degree Arizona heat. At the time, Khan was couch surfing, bouncing from friend to friends’ apartments and realized while resting in a Subway that he was homeless. It was a sinking realization and a feeling he’s carried with him.

Khan, a health sciences major minoring in anthropology, specifically focusing on medical anthropology, said since his experience in Arizona, he’s been much more observant of the homeless issues facing his hometown. He’s been heavily involved in community engagement through his classes and the Hunger and Homelessness Support Network (HSSN), an organization run by students and faculty at UAA but not affiliated with the university. Additionally, through one of his professors, Khan became involved as a Community Engaged Student Assistant (CESA) in the university’s Community Engagement and Learning program. Through his work with HSSN and as a CESA student, he worked on a campaign with local nonprofit Alaska Cares, which provides support and services to people and their pets experiencing homelessness.

Khan, who serves as the vice president of UAA’s Club Council and liaison for clubs at the Union of Students at UAA (USUAA), presented the opportunity for USUAA and HSSN to partner on a gear drive project benefiting Alaska Cares. It just so happened that Katie Scoggin, USUAA chief activities officer, was coordinating a similar project.

“After chatting with her and finding out that she was doing exactly what I was doing with the AK Cares Project, I asked her to collaborate on this,” Khan said. “We decided to double our donations for AK Cares. She’s been such an amazing partner throughout this project.”

Khan said many students and community members experience homelessness and food insecurity, which is defined as having limited access or lack of food or shelter. In 2018, a study conducted by Travis Hedwig showed that about 30% of UAA students were struggling to pay for rent while attending college and that roughly 8% were experiencing homelessness while pursuing their degrees.

According to a 2018 study conducted by Travis Hedwig, assistant professor of health sciences, 30% of UAA students struggle to pay rent while attending school, while 8% experience homelessness. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska  Anchorage)

 Since then, Khan said organizations like HSSN and USUAA work each year with student groups, the Student Health and Counseling Center and university leadership to help curb the issue of student food insecurity and homelessness — but it’s ongoing work.

Each Tuesday, from 10-11 a.m. until the end of the month, Khan said he and participants in the Winter Gear Drive project are tabling in the Student Union to raise awareness. He said there are donation boxes in the Student Union, UAA/APU Consortium Library and Gorsuch Commons. People can drop off new or gently used winter gear and other essential items such as warm socks, hats, mittens, gloves and toiletries. Khan said Alaska Cares' website also has a comprehensive list of items currently needed if people are interested in donating directly to the organization.

Recalling his brief brush with homelessness in Arizona was the catalyst for Khan to take action and address homelessness in Anchorage when he returned to Alaska to finish his degree at UAA. Since his return, he’s been championing and advocating for providing support and resources for students and community members experiencing homelessness and food insecurity in Anchorage. He hopes partnering with USUAA and other organizations on and off campus will continue to bring visibility to this pressing issue and that particularly during the season of giving, people are generous in providing a hand to vulnerable members of our community.


USUAA and HSSN are taking donations at designated bins located in the Student Union, UAA/APU Consortium Library and Gorsuch Commons from now until Nov. 30.

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