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Homeless student finds a community in the art department

David Allen South is a homeless student who takes a broad range of art classes at COCC. In pursuing his own education, he is following in the footsteps of his father, a cartoonist and engineer. He has taken painting, drawing, cartooning and is interested in every course the art program offers. In the process, his own art has flourished, and he has become a part of the college community.

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Isaac Peterson: Tell me about your father’s artwork.

David Allen South: I grew up in Michigan surrounded by my dad’s artwork. My childhood home was a gallery of his murals. On the garage door he painted a view of a bridge with a portrait of my mom looking off into the distance. He was a designer and engineer as well as an artist. After his career in the Air Force, he ended up working for NASA as an engineer in the space program. While working for NASA, he started doing a comic strip called “The Astronuts.” It wasn’t syndicated but NASA made books of his work to pass around at the office.

Isaac: And that’s the reason you’re taking art classes?

David: Yes, my dad sparked my interest in art and now I feel like I’m following in his footsteps. I have been taking all the art classes I can.

Isaac: So you’re homeless?

David: Yes. More like address-less. I live in a small trailer that I pull with a van. I have no permanent place but I meet people who let me park on their property. I lived in a tent in Bend for quite some time before I started school. COCC working in a coordinated way with the FAFSA allowed me to get financial aid to take classes, and that little bit of stability allowed me to start saving on my own as well. I saved every penny I could and purchased my trailer. COCC and FAFSA gave me the structure and the foothold I needed to get my own finances together and moving from the tent to the trailer was a big improvement in my life.

Isaac: What drives you artistically?

David: Art is my passion. It gives me a voice to share my creativity with others. I don’t know whether my paintings are good or not but when other people see my work and get something out of it, I feel like I have a sense of purpose. I paint a lot in my little trailer. In fact, it is mostly an art studio. I’ve made 30 paintings! Actually, I’m running out of space for paintings in there, a wet painting fell on me this morning and now I have paint on my pants!

Isaac: Now you really look like an artist! Are there other homeless students at COCC?

David: We have a quite a few!

Isaac: What other classes are you taking?

David: I love poetry and writing. I had great experiences in the courses of Jane Thielsen and Scott Pilsner and they taught me how to refine my ideas and move from conversation into writing. I learned a lot about staying on point, editing my ideas, and making my writing concise.

Isaac: Maybe those skills could help you with a job interview?

David: Definitely.

Isaac: Would you say education has helped stabilize your life?

David: In every aspect. It’s been a drastic change in my life. I’m proud of how much I’ve grown as an artist. College is a great place to explore who you are and find out what you can do. In my adult life I’ve had trouble becoming part of a community, and I have found it here at COCC. The students have welcomed me, and the instructors, of course, but also the support system of counselors and advisors who all worked in coordination to help me achieve my dream. I have grown as an artist and found just enough of a foothold in life to save money and improve my own situation. Being part of this community means the world to me and I feel safe and supported here.

Isaac Peterson | The Broadside

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