On Friday, Raven Canon proudly handed out copies of the second issue of The Springs Echo newspaper, which she launched this year to raise awareness of people who don’t have a home. Canon, homeless herself, dropped off copies at a Colorado Springs shelter where she had been staying.
Hours later, the 41-year-old was found dead in an outdoor pavilion.
“This is a stunning tragedy for me and anybody else who knew her, because there’s no reason for her to be dead,” Trig Bundgaard, a member of a local organization dedicated to ending homelessness, tells CJR.
Canon started the street paper, the region’s first, in part to give homeless people an avenue to earn money (they sold the paper in exchange for donations). The paper also published phone numbers and addresses to nonprofits providing food and shelter in the region. She signed up the Echo as a member of the International Network of Street Papers, which represents more than 100 titles worldwide with a combined readership of 6 million, and she told the Colorado Springs Independent she was proud to be the first homeless woman to launch such a paper.
“I don’t know if any of this is going to work,” Canon told The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs in January, as she was launching the newspaper. “At least no one can say I didn’t try.”
She started the paper with help from a friend who works for a social justice organization that creates its own bi-monthly paper. On the first day of 2017, Canon took 3,000 copies of The Springs Echo to the streets. The cover story of the eight-page broadsheet was penned by her, describing a “war zone” that many local homeless people encounter in the community. It also included an obituary for a man who died on the streets.
Vendors sold copies of the newspaper for a suggested donation of $1.50 after buying them for 50 cents per copy.
“That was an offering to people who didn’t have an opportunity to have a livelihood—who had no other choice but to beg,” Carrie Baatz, who works for a local nonprofit housing group, told The Gazette. “She offered a path to dignity. She gave people a voice.”
Canon’s inspiring story was covered by the local paper and TV stations.
“The community at large wants so desperately to see the homeless do something to help themselves,” Canon told NBC affiliate KOAA. “Well, this is the homeless doing something to help themselves, so help me help them.”
“She offered a path to dignity. She gave people a voice”
“The paper wouldn’t have existed without all of her blood, sweat, and tears,” Bundgaard says. “I saw her on days that she was doing meetings with prospective advertisers, and you would never know seeing her strut down the street to her meetings that she was homeless. Somehow she always had the ability to find a shower, get her face did, and look like every other professional.”
Not all homeless people in the city were happy about the newspaper.
“It’s a battle,” Canon told Real Change News. “I am emotionally exhausted. At times, it’s more than I can bear. I can’t go into a regular shelter setting, where I normally used to go, because I pretty much go around with a big bullseye on my back in the homeless community right now. I’m bringing unwanted attention on them. They don’t understand that things are getting better because I’m doing this. They’re so used to people abusing them and throwing them under the bus, that that is what they naturally expect.”
This is a documentary that Trygve Bungaard of the Coalition for Compassion and Action filmed only a short six months…
Canon was “a recklessly optimistic force of nature” despite all her setbacks, Bundgaard says. She went by different aliases; she told Gazette she chose the name “Raven” from the Edgar Allan Poe poem. She moved to Colorado Springs in May 2015 after spending 20 years traveling across America, and began her stay in the city sleeping on sidewalks. A month after arriving, the Gazette reported she was sexually assaulted. Friends say Canon struggled with alcoholism but recently had gotten sober. In the last few years, she became a strong advocate for the homeless and frequently appeared at City Council meetings to discuss ordinances that could discriminate against the community.
RELATED: Journalism and the power of emotions
“Everywhere she turned, she encountered naysayers and reasons from the world and society at large why she could not accomplish what she wanted to accomplish,” Bundgaard says. “She never seemed to lose her stride in the face of that. It had always been her dream.”
It is not yet known how Canon died. Her body was found Saturday morning in an outdoor pavilion, the El Paso County Coroner’s Office told The Gazette. An autopsy report is expected in four to six weeks.
Friend Andi Van Gogh tells CJR that Canon was at Springs Rescue Mission, a shelter for the homeless, Friday night. A manager at the facility told Van Gogh that Canon was excitedly giving out copies of the new issue.
“So much is not known about what happened to her, so a lot of folks are assuming it had to do with exposure or overdosing,” Bundgaard says. “I knew her well enough that I would be shocked if any of those scenarios ended up being the case. This is a stunning tragedy for me and anybody else who knew her, because there’s no reason for her to be dead.”
A memorial service is being held on Sunday at a church in downtown Colorado Springs. Canon’s daughter, Lesley Tippens, created a GoFundMe to help raise money for her mother’s cremation.