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Tenacious advocate for the homeless leaves behind an outsized legacy

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A new Echo issue hits the streets this week. - STEVEN SAINT-THOMAS
  • Steven Saint-Thomas
  • A new Echo issue hits the streets this week.

Raven Canon was raving mad when we first met. She had stormed up the front steps of the Independent with a grievance — homeless people get left behind in this city — and a demand — let me use your phone to call the mayor's office. I was a bit taken aback, but offered her a cigarette and asked her to slow down a bit. She did (though not by much), telling me how she ended up on the streets, what it's like out there and her desire for homeless people to have a louder voice.

I offered to connect Raven, whose given name is Crystal Tippens, with Grits, a quarterly insert in this paper that features stories written by homeless people, as a way to start getting her message out. But she had bigger dreams to start a newspaper run entirely by members of her community that would bypass media middlemen (like me) to tell their stories directly to the public. Distribution would support homeless vendors who could sell the paper rather than ask for a donation. It would be transformative, she always said.

Raven, ever the socialite, brought together a team of local organizers, activists, Seeds Community Café employees and a pastor to make it happen. And happen it did — the first issue of the Springs Echo hit the streets in January.

She was overjoyed but exhausted by it all. Missed deadlines, flaky advertisers and scrappy fundraising added to the drama that only sharpened her resolve to keep it going. Springs Echo became a member of the International Network of Street Papers, an organization that connects over 100 papers in 24 languages in 35 countries. Raven was quite proud to be the first homeless woman to launch such a street paper and made gushing plans to visit other sister papers around the world. This is just the start, she always said.

Raven's life ended on March 4. She was 41 years old and about a year sober. Verifiable information about the circumstances are sparse at this point, but friends say she was sleeping outside to give other tenants of the apartment where she was staying some space. Colorado Springs Police are not actively investigating her death as a criminal matter, and the Coroner's Office reports "nothing suspicious" about it. A full autopsy will be complete in four to six weeks.

A memorial commemorating her life is planned for 4 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, March 12 at First Congregational Church, 20 E. St. Vrain St. Raven practiced Rastafarianism, so One Love Club, a Westside rastafari community center, has offered to dedicate this month's full moon reasoning session in her memory. The ceremony entails smoking ganja, a group meditation and Nyabinghi drumming. That's at 212 S. 21st St. at 7:30 p.m. on March 12.

In addition to launching the Echo, Raven was known for helping to organize a tent city on Springs Rescue Mission property this fall ("The last sanctuary," News, Oct. 5, 2016), addressing City Council about the realities of homelessness and speaking out on behalf of the homeless community in other public forums. She was a friend and counselor to many on the streets, a Pueblo native whose fondest days were spent on the island of Guam, an unashamed former stripper and medical marijuana user, a Seeds regular, a mom, a puppy owner, a media junkie and — when it came to her causes — a hawk.

Or perhaps we should say a Raven.

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