Remembering Raven

  Raven Canon. Courtesy of INSP.ngo

Raven Canon. Courtesy of INSP.ngo

Rising street paper star found dead on street

By Laura Kelly

Last month homeless activist Raven Canon was found dead in Colorado Springs. Despite experiencing homelessness, Canon had just launched a brand new street paper, The Springs Echo.

On March 4 at 9:30 a.m., a homeless woman was found unresponsive on the streets of Colorado Springs, wrapped against the 29 degree cold in a blanket. Raven Canon was at least the ninth person to die on the city’s streets this winter, activists say. She was also a rising star in her community, an effective community organizer and activist, and the editor-in-chief of the world’s newest street paper, The Springs Echo

Raven started her street paper journey as a vendor for Real Change in Seattle. Though selling didn’t work out for her, the concept had an impact. When she found herself homeless in Colorado Springs she decided that what the city needed was a street paper—and she set out to make that a reality. 

Raven spent most of her life fighting to stay off the street. She was born with gastroschisis (a birth defect in which a baby is born with the intestines outside of its body), and fought stomach problems her whole life. She worked in bars for years, struggling to keep her head above water. When she quit drinking due to addiction problems, she lost her profession and her income source. Homelessness caught up with her.

Raven’s friend Linda Laba said that the odds were always stacked against her, “But she rose above the odds and the statistics.”

Laba calls herself a sister to Raven. They met years ago, when Raven was living on the U.S. island territory of Guam, in Micronesia. Back then, Raven was known by her given name of Crystal Tippens. (She changed her name recently to Raven to symbolize her new life.)  

“I met her through my involvement in a 12-step program,” said Laba. “We got very close because she’s just such an extraordinary person.” 

Colorado Springs activist Trygve Bundgaard first met Raven last year through her campaigning on behalf of the homeless community in which she lived. The board chair at Blackbird Outreach and a director at the Coalition for Compassion and Action, he was organizing a sit-in protest against the city’s proposed sit-lie ordinance—a law designed to force homeless people out of public spaces. 

“Until the very end, she was the most fiercely articulate and intelligent person,” said Bundgaard. “I think that’s part of what made her so effective and powerful as a community organizer and an activist. She defied everyone’s expectations of what someone surviving outside should look and sound like.”

Though still struggling with housing, Raven’s trademark grit saw her get the first edition of The Springs Echo out in January. 

It was clear, Laba and Bundgaard agreed, that Raven was turning her life around. After months of hard work, she’d achieved her ambition of starting The Springs Echo; she’d got a grip on her alcohol problems and some legal issues; and since the start of 2017 she’d found a room to stay in with friends.

Her advocacy work was starting to have an effect too. According to Colorado Springs city councilman William Murray, “She was a rising star in the community.”

“That’s the core root of what I’m struggling with so much right now,” said Bundgaard. “In my last conversation with her on Thursday, I could tell she was down. I could hear the hopelessness in her voice but I could not get out of her why it was different. As far as I could see, everything was in place for an amazing new chapter to her life.”

So far, the authorities have shed little light on Raven’s death. The Colorado Springs Police Department said that there was no foul play, and the coroner’s office says it will not have any comment until its report is ready—which may not happen until the end of this month. 

The what-ifs will continue for everyone that knew Raven. 

“I think probably the saddest thing, in hindsight, is that she kept telling me that she felt so alone,” said Bundgaard. “Her death has clearly shown how not-alone she was.” 

The Pikes Peak Justice & Peace Commission and the Coalition for Compassion & Action are currently working to keep the Echo in print. To help support The Springs Echo, visit the paper’s crowdfunding page at generosity.com/community-fundraising/springs-echo-street-paper

Courtesy of INSP.ngo