PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A collaborative storytelling project out of Portland State University aims to draw up change regarding the narrative surrounding homelessness through ethnographic cartoons based on PSU students’ lived experience of housing insecurity.
In partnership with PSU’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative (HRAC), Street Roots, and Independent Publishing Resource Center, the project utilized research led by PSU instructor, Kacy McKinney, the talents of 10 Portland-based comic artists, and the untold stories of PSU students to produce 10 cartoons which illustrate the reality of student homelessness.
“There is something about the language of comics that allows us to connect in a different way than if we were reading a book or listening to a podcast,” McKinney stated in an Portland State Magazine article. “The hope is that these stories will resonate … that they will touch people in unexpected ways, and change the way we think, talk and teach about homelessness and poverty.”
Although the 10 stories shared by PSU students are unique, data from a 2020 HRAC report suggests that they are not alone in their shared experience of housing insecurity.
According to the report, nearly one in six PSU students had experienced homelessness in 2020, and 44.6% of PSU students struggled with housing insecurity. Those numbers were higher for students of color.
“Dr. McKinney’s comic book project reflects the exact type of work that PSU is known for, and HRAC co-founders dreamed of supporting,” stated PSU’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative’s Director, Marisa Zapata. “Uplifting our students in telling their stories about homelessness as graphic novels demonstrates why this issue is so important and how we can move forward together as a community.”
She continued, “I am moved by each story, each panel, each student’s life I see on these pages. I appreciate and respect their willingness to share their lives, and I hope they have gotten as much out of this project as readers will. I thank Dr. McKinney for her vision and commitment to create research with impact that matters to people with lived experiences with homelessness who are also PSU students.”
For Daniela Mendez Ortiz, one of 10 participating students to share their experience with homelessness, the project was an opportunity to battle stigmas and see herself represented.
“I need to stop being ashamed of my childhood and what my reality might be, I want people to see me and hear my story,” she shared in an article by Portland State Magazine “We should stop looking down on homelessness and look at the real reasons why we have homelessness. I hope people see that housing instability has many different faces and many different realities.”
According to PSU, the comic book will be available via Street Roots vendors beginning Feb. 2.
Street Roots Executive Director Kaia Sand told KOIN 6 News the collaborative effort is a beautiful and thoughtfully carried out project, which they are proud to be a part of.
“This publication lifts up visual forms of storytelling to honor ten people and their diverse experiences of homelessness sleeping in shelters, on couches, under the stars, against a backpack on the MAX, on a slide in the playground, inside apartments in disrepair,” Sand stated. “Here, in this luminous gathering of visual stories, we say, please do listen. Please do pay attention. Please do read – and care.”
Throughout February the artwork and corresponding stories will also be on display in two exhibits:
In partnership with Downstairs Gallery and artist Daren Todd, the project will be featured for the public at 124 SW Yamhill St., Portland, on Feb. 12 from 5-8 p.m. Private viewings will be available by appointment on Feb. 13, via their website.
An additional free viewing opportunity for PSU students and staff will be held at the PSU Native American Student and Community Center, at 710 SW Jackson St., Portland. Feb. 15 to 28, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Due to the success of the project, PSU has announced plans to raise funds and develop an additional 10 comics with the goal of publishing all 20 in the future.
To finance the research and publication for the second of the storytelling project, the team hopes to raise $40,000. Those interested in supporting the project advancement can donate here.
A list of the team, including contributing students, artists and researchers can be viewed here.