JUSTICE: ‘Springs Echo’ to give homeless a voice

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Raven Canon (also known as Crystal Tippens) is the first homeless woman to start a street paper, according to the International Network of Street Papers. She was found dead March 4, just days after publishing the second edition of The Springs Echo. The PPJPC had helped Raven with the publication and will be working to keep the paper – and her dream – alive.
Photo by Jamie Muth

By Raven Canon

What is a “street newspaper”? Basically, it is a low-barrier work opportunity that rewards effort from the first day forward.

The concept of street papers is not new. Records of street papers go back as far 1915, when Cincinnati’s Hobo News ran as a regular publication until 1930.

Street News, founded in late 1989 in New York City, is widely considered the country’s first modern street paper. In 1992, Tim Harris started Spare Change in Boston, a street paper still in circulation.

After moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris began Seattle’s renowned Real Change News. It was a movement in Seattle that I personally had the honor of witnessing, at least in part.

In 2012, I found myself living on the streets in Seattle. The first thing I did was go to Real Change, to try to work myself out of my predicament.

My time with Real Change was brief; however, it planted a seed in my mind. I saw it as a powerful vehicle for social justice while providing for people’s most immediate needs. I loved that a person got out of it what they put into it.

When I became homeless two years ago here in Colorado, I was lost and didn’t know where to begin to start over. I had lost my voice. I had no place in the community where I belonged.

I was born in Colorado – if I should feel welcome anywhere, it should be my home state.

From apathy to a lack of compassion, I have encountered the worst sides of humanity while on the streets. Shockingly, the vilest actions and comments came from those who, by all appearances, seemed to be the most comfortable and upstanding members of society.

I recall a well-dressed, full-grown man kicking me, while I lay asleep and for no reason other than I was there.
Predators are expected to abuse and exploit the most vulnerable in our society; for the homeless, they make life on the streets a war zone.

But what might not have been expected is how cruel some prosperous members of our community can become when dealing with the marginalized.

Working with those who need the most help can be exhausting and often thankless. We have seen people die from exposure as well as from a myriad of medical reasons. With proper housing and medical care, many lives could have been saved.

Last December, we remembered 25 people who had passed away on the streets of Colorado Springs in the last year during what the Bijou Community calls the Longest Night. The annual memorial service is held behind the Bijou House, 411 W. Bijou St.

As I knelt to lay white stones in memory of four people I knew who had succumbed to life on the streets, tears filled my eyes because I couldn’t help them in time. For them, my efforts were in vain.

With Roger Moorehead’s recent death from exposure, we as a city need to re-examine how we approach this crisis with the homeless. With the coming Olympic Museum and future tourist dollars on the line for the economy of this city, certain social issues need to be confronted.

From a tourist point of view, the person standing on the side of the road asking for help is seen as a problem. I do not blame those who are standing out there. I tried it and I guess I wasn’t hungry enough yet, because my pride couldn’t take it.

I cried at the humiliation and degradation I had to endure to get a bite to eat.

But what options are there? There have been none, or least no legal ones.

But I foresee a new option with the launch of this street paper. Now, when a tourist comes to town and walks Tejon Street downtown, perhaps they will not see a “homeless person” on every street corner begging for help – instead, they may see people who are working to better themselves by selling newspapers.

The key word is “working.” Selling this paper is a legitimate job; it is not a hustle. We are a non-profit and will be filing our 501(c)(3) paperwork as soon as we can afford it.

We are about social justice and change. We want to give a voice to those who have no voice, hope to those who have no hope.

I have been at the bottom without any hope at all, and I have seen how dark the night can be. I want to bring light and hope to those who are still stumbling in the darkness.

With even the smallest support system, most people will thrive. Without it, they wither and die.

As we head into a new year, I hope that we as a city can make a resolution to support each other. To give hope to those who are at the bottom, huddling on the sidewalks.

A synonym for “Olympic” is “heavenly.” If this vision for Colorado Springs is, “Where Olympic ideals inspire our way of life,” how Olympic are we as a city? Where are the morals and virtues that make up an Olympic ideal?

I don’t understand how a person can be treated as nothing, and society still expects them to walk tall. Compassion, integrity, honor, charity, and respect are traits that I see as being Olympic; when I see how some people in this city treat those who are experiencing economic instability, I am appalled.

When social injustice becomes a way of life, it is a small step from that to a complete lack of freedom. Jailing people because they lack what we have isn’t help; it’s cruelty.

I keep coming back to a quote from St. Thomas More’s book, Utopia: “For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded of this but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”

Editor’s Note: The last time I talked to Raven – two days before she died – she asked me to make sure The Springs Echo would continue if anything happened to her. We all can help keep her dream alive. Donations in Raven’s memory can be sent, payable to The Springs Echo, c/o PPJPC, Box 2115, Colorado Springs, CO 80901.

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