Raven Canon’s Echo has finally bounced back, more than two years after going silent.
The late homeless advocate’s defunct street paper, The Springs Echo, is making a return to Colorado Springs with a new new staff and a new publishing partner, the Pikes Peak Justice & Peace Commission.
Members of the commission distributed their first copies under the new partnership at the Marian House Soup Kitchen last week, calling it a fresh start for a vitally-needed publication.
“We saw this as a really important platform for folks to get their word out,” said Bill Thomas, the paper’s new co-editor. “And it went away, and it was a tragedy for our city.”
The Echo began 2½ years ago as the city’s first publication sold by homeless people and catering to that community. But its much-anticipated run was unexpectedly cut short just two months later when Canon, a vocal homeless advocate who herself lived on the streets, died of an accidental drug overdose in March 2017. Canon, whose legal name was Crystal Tippens, was 41.
Canon was the paper’s founder and publisher, as well as a lead writer for the monthly broadsheet. And as someone personally experiencing homelessness, she lent a sense of authenticity and credibility to each page, fellow advocates said. Every word reflected the true nature of life on the streets, and the issues her community faced.
But her death left a void that proved difficult to fill.
Some nonprofits and other homeless people tried to keep the Echo printing. But their efforts came in fits and starts, and momentum for the project ultimately fizzled.
“It was frustrating,” said Judy Pastore, who was recently homeless and who has spent much of the last two years working to revive the paper. “I figured ‘I guess it’ll just quit.’”
In stepped the Justice & Peace Commission, which plans to pay for printing costs — $365 per 1,000 copies — while relying on the volunteered time of Thomas and co-editor Debbie Vitulli, the nonprofit’s board chair.
The reason, Thomas said, was simple: The paper offered a chance to give people living on the streets a greater voice, along with a dignified chance to earn some extra cash.
“It’s a call to service that we all feel,” Thomas said. “We want to make sure this is a voice by and for — primarily by — the homeless.”
The latest edition includes an essay by a homeless outreach worker and poetry written by homeless military veterans, as well as statistics on the number of veterans living on the streets in El Paso County. As was the case two years ago, the latest Echo also includes a list of resources for people to find meals, shelters, housing, medical care, jobs and mental heath care.
Thomas said he wants future editions to include more articles and poems written by people living on the streets. Weekly committee meetings and writers workshops, which are free and open to the public, are planned for 2-4 p.m. on Tuesdays in the Penrose Library’s Aspen Room.
People experiencing homelessness can pick up 20 copies from the Justice & Peace Commission for free, then sell them on the street as official vendors. Each copy goes for a suggested donation of $2, which the vendors can keep.
If anyone runs out of papers and wants to sell more, they can pick up more free copies from the commission, Thomas said. Two businesses — The Perk Downtown and Poor Richard’s — also purchased 20 copies each and left them out for customers to take for free.
The work could be fairly lucrative for an ambitious peddler. Pastore once made $100 selling one issue, and a friend of hers made upwards of $300.
“It’s better to sell something than to stand there with your hand out,” Thomas said.
Dean Stansbury, 30, and his pregnant fiancee Shawnna Burgin, 23, said the newspapers were like newly-printed money last week.
The couple camps outside, because visiting a shelter would mean that they would have to sleep apart. They hadn’t even read the front page when they agreed to peddle 40 copies — 20 for each of them.
If they could sell all 40, they planned to get a room in a motel for a night, or go on a rare date to Fat Sully’s for pizza or the Green Line Grill for a burger.
“That little extra cash helps out,” Stansbury said.
Bonnie Hellem, 57, held out similar hopes for translating the Echo into a night indoors.
She became homeless in January when her abusive boyfriend was evicted. At that moment, she left him — opting instead to sleep outside or, more often, in apartment building laundry rooms.
Living off a $790 monthly Social Security check, she has yet to find a place to live. But with rent prices continuing to climb further into record territory, her check is about $100 short of the average rent for a studio apartment in Colorado Springs. And many landlords require new tenants to prove they earn two to three times their monthly rental price to move in.
Clutching a stack of 20 papers and a chance to earn $40, she began daydreaming. If she sold every copy, she mused, maybe she could find a compassionate motel manager to let her indoors for a night.
“I’ll take these papers and see what I can get out of them,” Hellem said.
Thomas said he plans to initially publish the Echo quarterly before possibly ramping up production and printing it monthly.
For Pastore, the sight of the Echo’s return has been satisfying. She plans to send a copy to Canon’s daughter in Texas, letting her know that Canon’s work continues after her death.
“She just wants her mom’s legacy to live on,” Pastore said.