PSU Architecture alumna shares stories of homelessness in multidisciplinary art project
Author: Suzanne Gray, College of the Arts
Posted: October 10, 2019


Cheryl Leontina with a girl holding a skateboard on the Esplanade

Cheryl Leontina (on bike), making connections on the Esplanade.


Many people go out of their way to avoid homeless people on the street. Cheryl Leontina stops to talk.

Leontina, who graduated from Portland State with a master’s in architecture in 2018, has interviewed hundreds of unsheltered and housing-insecure people in the past year. She asks them about their stories, their strengths and their hopes for the future, as part “Stories Under the Bridge,” a project to help bridge the divide between housed and unhoused people in our community.

The project began in 2018, when Leontina was awarded the Andries Deinum Prize for Visionaries and Provocateurs. This $10,000 prize, named for the late film educator and PSU professor Andries Deinum, is awarded annually to given to a College of the Arts student who is committed to expanding public dialogue via creative artistic expression, original research or an innovative project highlighting the value of art in the 21st century.

To collect the stories, Leontina toured the Esplanade on a whimsical bike. She then partnered with Outside the Frame, an organization that trains homeless and marginalized youth in filmmaking, to create a series of short films from her interviews. She used the prize funds to hire homeless and housing-insecure individuals who contributed to the project as storytellers, ambassadors, artisans and film editors. 

As the project has grown, Leontina has been invited to talk with neighborhood associations, nonprofit agencies and architecture firms about what she’s learned. 

The most important thing? “Homeless people are experts on the housing crisis!” Leontina says.  She thinks solutions can only grow when houseless people themselves are at the table alongside government officials, service agencies and neighborhood associations. 

After all, forming a village is a natural survival technique—whether you’re living on the street, creating an expansive art project or trying to solve the homelessness crisis. 

“When humans are in crisis, we form a village. On the streets, you need friends to watch your back and help you. You need your village, so you create it. And that’s what we need to do to solve this crisis.”

An exhibition about the project—including the films and the artsy bike—is on view in the Broadway Gallery of Lincoln Hall through December 31. Leontina and Nili Yosha of Outside the Frame will discuss the project at an artists talk Friday, October 18 as part of Portland State of Mind.

Stories Under the Bridge: Artists Talk and Reception

Friday, October 18

5:30 p.m.

Lincoln Recital Hall (room 75) 

1620 SW Park Ave.

Cost: Free and open to the public 

Event Details 

Cheryl Leontina with her art bike on the Esplanade