Homeless leave lasting impression using handprinted mugs

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Photo by Sam Ditch
The mugs created by Daniel See and men from the Pleasant Valley Men’s Shelter are being sold at the Mattress Factory with all proceeds going to PVMS.

By Alyse Horn

Project Home(less), an initiative that imprints handprints of the homeless onto mugs, was created by a person who didn’t want to be a bystander anymore to homelessness.

“I’ve always thought a lot about the issue of homelessness and how it seems like a huge injustice that I get to return to a home every night while others brave it out on the streets – often not by choice, but a matter of circumstance,” said Daniel See, creator of Project Home(less).

“Yet when we see these people on the streets, struggling to get by, we often turn a blind eye and walk the other way. It’s not because we don’t care – I believe that to some extent, we all feel a sense of guilt when we ignore someone’s plea for help – but often, we don’t know how to help, and how much to help.”

See, an artist studying at Carnegie Mellon University, said at first he wanted to have the handprints left on a block of clay, but concluded that the handprints left of mugs were able to transform “everyday objects into a physical reminder of a person on the streets.”

See works with Northside Common Ministries and the Pleasant Valley Men’s Shelter to create the mugs, and the mugs are then sold out of the gift shop at the Mattress Factory for $25 with all proceeds given back to the men’s shelter.

Jay Poliziani, director of NSCM, said the men from the shelter who are participating in the project have benefited greatly from it, as it has given them a chance to talk about their stories.

“The men in the shelter tend to keep in their feelings and these arts and literary projects (that are all volunteer led) really help the guys open up and share their story, and sometimes acknowledge their story and their struggle to themselves for the first time,” Poliziani said.

Poliziani said See has a “calm and warm demeanor,” which makes it easy for men at the shelter to open up to him for the project. Sam Ditch, the store manager at the MF, echoed Poliziani’s statement saying that See is “very kind and soft spoken.”

Ditch is collecting the emails of those who purchase the mugs for See, so he will be able to reach out in the future and “gage their perception of the project and how it changed their perception of homelessness in the community,” Ditch said.

Each mug comes with a little card inside that includes information on the man who left his handprint on the mug, as well as a description of the project.

“It’s interesting how some of [the handprints] fit exactly to your hand and it makes you think about whose hand that is,” Ditch said.

In 2011, the NSCM Food pantry and the MF partnered with artists from Burma who were City of Asylum writers-in-residence that created plaster hands, with each holding a loaf of bread donated from Breadworks. The project is called “My Offering.”

The artists, Than Htay Maung and wife Khet Mar, made replicas of both of their hands out of plaster and sold each for $100 at the MF with all proceeds donated to the NSCM Food Pantry.

According to Maung’s statement about the project, “I have not escaped the memories of the victims’ hands asking food and help in the aftermath of the Nagis cyclone that hit Burma’s delta in 2008. When my wife and I were doing relief work with other friends, I saw the many hands of people who were hungry for food, for safety, for kindness and for others. We continue to see countless hands like these all over the world today.”

Poliziani said the hands are still being sold, and every couple of months Ditch will stop by to drop off “an envelope of money that can be used to buy food” that is needed for the pantry.

Ditch said she thinks the two projects play well off each other, and that she is glad to have these connections within the community.

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