This collaborative storytelling project seeks to change the narrative around homelessness through ethnographic cartooning focused on the experiences of Portland State University students. This project will result in a series of ten short comics created through collaborations between PSU students with lived experience of homelessness, Portland-based comic artists, and the research team, which includes the primary investigator and four undergraduate research assistants. These comics will center the voices and experiences of historically marginalized and oppressed groups—who are disproportionately represented among people experiencing homelessness—including people of color, individuals with disabilities, and LGBTQAI individuals.

Due to the success of the first phase of this storytelling project, the team is raising money to expand by an additional ten comics and publish a book of all 20 comics. They hope to raise $38,000 to cover the costs of the second phase. If you would like to be a part of supporting this project, please make a donation if you are able. Any amount helps. Put "comics" in the comment field. Thank you for your support.

General Info:


Kacy McKinney (Lead Researcher), Shaun Hardy (Research Assistant), Kimberléa Ruffu (Research Assistant), Aven Handley-Merk (Community Partnership Liaison), and Jai Milks (Comic Studies Intern)


In progress


Street Roots

Independent Publishing Resource Center


Internal (HRAC)

Donations Accepted

Meet the artists

Arantza Pena Popo

I'm an Afro-Latinx comic artist and illustrator from Atlanta, GA. My comics surround my navigation of this weird and disheartening world as an angsty black girl. I zoom into the small epiphanies and melodramatic breakdowns of my life (and other's lives) and give them a pedestal. I like to think of comics as a puzzle, where I piece together these disparate and distant pieces of the past together to create a narrative. I believe that through the control of all these visual and textual components, we can easily gain clarity of our identities and of our pasts.

Instagram: @_ara_pena_

Christina Tran

Christina writes to dispel the spells of capitalism. Her tender, autobiographical comics and essays, invite us into re-remembering who we are and what we know. She has been making webcomics since 2014 and self-publishing zines since 2015. Her art-making practices draw from roots of design, education, and community weaving. Find her online at or in-person at renegade community art space Mt Caz.


Erika Rier

Erika Rier is a self-taught interdisciplinary artist working in a variety of mediums including drawing, painting, and ceramics in a style she calls folk surrealism. Writing was her first love and she still secretly writes fiction but never poetry anymore. Having lived in Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, NYC, Arizona, and Washington state; Erika now resides in Portland, OR.  She also has one of each of the following: a husband, a daughter, a fluffy cat, and a black cat.



Gigi Woolery

Gigi Woolery is a multidisciplinary artist local to Portland, OR. Their work currently focuses on textiles, synthesizing found and repurposed textiles and fiber into sentimental objects of protection. Gigi’s work is influenced by the Latinx diaspora, nature, isolation, grandmothers, as well as themes of mourning and belonging.


Instagram: @c.ucarron

Liz Yerby

Liz Yerby is a Portland, Oregon based cartoonist. They enjoy experimenting with comics as a visual medium, and writing non-fiction. Their latest personal project is a series about Big Cats and their owners, which is also subtly a reflection on certain eccentric figures in LGBTQ+ history. Their comics have been included in Vision Quest, Sweaty Palms, and in an exhibition about the influence of Peanuts comics on culture at the Somerset House in London. They have also been an organizer for the Portland Zine Symposium since 2017.


Instagram: @lizyerby

Marin Jurgens

Marin Jurgens is an artist and graphic designer based in Portland, Oregon. Raised in a bicultural home where she speaks Japanese and English with her family, Marin has found solace through painting and drawing when she has lacked confidence in her ethnic identity. Through a variety of mediums including watercolors, oil paint, graphite, and digital art, Marin strives to use her artistic skills to amplify underrepresented voices in her community. This fall, she will be attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City to work toward an AAS in communications design and a BFA in graphic design.


McKensi Payne

McKensi Payne is a Portland-based free-lance artist originally from Urbana, Illinois. Her interests are in printmaking, zine-making, comics, and illustration with some of her biggest inspirations being Eric Kenney, Charles Burns, Lynda Barry, and Craig Thompson. She hopes to use her art to inspire creativity in others, spread awareness of current social issues and put a smile on people's faces whenever possible. When she’s not making art you can find her listening to podcasts, polishing up her Mandarin skills, or catching some sun on an afternoon hike with her dog. 



Mike Bautista

Mike Bautista is an illustrator/graphic designer/sous chef based in Portland, OR. He is currently taking a good look at his work/life balance.


Instagram: @milkbarista

Quinn C Amacher

Quinn C Amacher is a Cartoonist. Her work plays with motion and emotion and is interested in reframing the reader's context. A love of reading has led her to conclude that the humanities remain vital to humanity's reimagining. She was born in a system in which no one is born deserving (but must all earn and pay for) security, care, and love. She lets the mystery be. Her favorite fruit is pomegranate.


Digital drawing of Valerie against a green background.

Valerie W

Valerie W is a Filipina multimedia artist and poet from Portland, OR. Her work examines the relationships between memories, identity and personal style. Comics have shaped her worldview since childhood.

Instagram: @my__mineral

More about our team

Photo of Kacy Mckinney, who is wearing a collared blue shirt with white polka dots and standing in front of a rock wall.

Dr. Kacy McKinney- Lead Researcher and Faculty Member

Pronouns: She/her

I am a scholar-educator and a comic artist and illustrator. As a faculty member in the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, my focus is in the undergraduate program in Community Development. I am a member of the Toulan School’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, and I serve on the faculty advisory council for Comics Studies at PSU. I served on the Board of Directors of Sisters of the Road - a non-profit organization working to create systemic change to end poverty and homelessness - from 2018 to 2021, as the Secretary and the Chair of the Board, and I now serve on the Leadership Development Committee of the Board.

My hope is that this research will result in changes to how we teach about - and how we think about - homelessness and poverty. We are using collaborative interviewing and cartooning to create approachable, accessible, and relatable materials centering the stories of individuals with lived experience of homelessness and that offer a range of experiences that complicate common narratives and stereotypes. We are inspired by another collaborative comics project - El Viaje Más Caro (The Most Costly Journey) - which uses collaborative storytelling to support Latin American migrant farm workers in the dairy industry in Vermont.

Photo of Shaun Hardy, who is sitting on some stairs and looking up at the camera, wearing a teal hoodie.

Shaun Hardy, Research Assistant 

Pronouns: He/him

I am interested in this project because I want to make the college experience better and more accessible for others like me. Being a recipient of the J Bar J Scholarship made it possible for me to achieve my goal of going to college. I was homeless once, and that experience forever radicalized how I see the world of education. To be able to have a fair chance in academia is important as someone who is low income and/or houseless. By sharing the stories of others, I hope that the folks in charge of this institution have a better understanding of how important it is to give every student a fair chance and quality experience in school. I want to help in any way I can to achieve that goal. I am committed to this project as a way of giving back to the community that helped me.

Photo of Aven Handley-Merk set against a gray background. They are wearing glasses and a gray blazer over a dark blue shirt, and they are looking up to the right.

Aven Handley-Merk, Community Partnership Liaison 

Pronouns: She/they

I am a senior studying Community Development at PSU’s Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning. I am completing my community development field experience in the role of community partnership liaison for this project. I am excited to contribute my love of comics and my passion for collaborative work. I bring six years of experience providing administrative and communications support to progressive organizations and causes. Most recently, I launched a digital forum for a local climate resiliency organization.

Photo of Kimberlea Ruffu set against a dark background. She is wearing a black shirt and beige sweater, and has dangly earrings and bright red lipstick.

Kimberléa Ruffu, Research Assistant 

Pronouns: she/her/ella 

I am a senior completing my Bachelor’s degree in Urban & Public Affairs. I believe people who work in public policy and planning have a responsibility to design for the inclusion of everyone. What I love about this project is the engaging and accessible methodology it uses through visual arts to present data and amplify the narratives of those with lived experiences of houselessness while centering intentionality, equity, and anti-racist principles to create change. This aligns with my own personal commitments and passion for building a sustainable society where health, wellness, and access to stable housing aren’t out of reach, but are emphasized as fundamental rights. I love floral design, bold lipstick, and live with my two partners in good trouble, including our diva kitten, Marceline.


Photo of Jai Milks standing in front of green foliage with red berries. They are wearing a blue button down shirt and glasses.

Jai Milks, Comics Studies Intern

Pronouns: They/ Them

I am a senior completing my BFA in Creative Writing Fiction while earning my Comics Studies Certificate here at Portland State. I am a writer of speculative fiction and a developing comics creator. I'm excited to participate in this project because I have lived experience with homelessness and housing insecurity, and because I firmly believe in the potential for comics to be a platform for social change. Stories are important, particularly when it comes to issues which carry a great deal of social stigma, such as poverty and houselessness. Uplifting the voices of those who experience marginalization is crucial, both in raising awareness about their struggles and in beginning to implement tangible changes which can assist in creating a more equitable society. I live in outer Portland with my partner, several roommates and my elderly toy poodle, Jean-Pierre.