Judy Graves (right) greets a close friend after her retirement party.


Judy Graves (right) greets a close friend after her retirement party.

June 10, 2013

VANCOUVER – A long-time tireless advocate for the homeless in Vancouver says she got the energy for her work through reading the Bible.

Judy Graves spent four decades walking the streets at night to wake those without homes and to advocate on their behalf at countless municipal meetings.

However, at her May 29 retirement party, Graves said she could only have done the work by relying on God.

"I am completely inadequate. But I keep turning back to Scripture and I keep listening to people on the streets, and I keep doing what people have taught me to do when you are working in faith: move ahead a step at a time."

When Graves began to work for the City of Vancouver as an uneducated single mother with a small child, she noticed a growing number of people on the street.

"I would wake them up and ask: 'What happened to you?'" Graves recounted. She would walk around downtown, often after midnight, and talk with the homeless there, "just sit on the sidewalk, share a cigarette, and listen, listen, listen."

Graves brought the information she learned to City Hall and talked to mayors and government employees, trying to find homes for the homeless. She became a tenant assistance coordinator for the city.


The biggest challenge Graves encountered, she said, was a lack of credibility. She was surrounded by government officials with masters' degrees; she had never finished high school.

But after spending time with people on the streets, Graves gained a wealth of information. "My professors, my priests, and my rabbis lived behind dumpsters in the alleys, and the rich, rich, richest learning is there."

"I'll never tell you anything that I can't take you on the street and show you," Graves said. She was always prepared to take those in government, the clergy, the wealthy or students to meet the people behind the numbers.

"I have loved, loved being able to do this work, and it will never end; it will take on different forms," Graves said.

Penny Ballem, the Vancouver city manager, praised Graves' approach. "I knew all about people who are homeless and I can rattle off the determinants of health and all the money they cost the health care system and how many times they are picked up by the ambulance," Ballem said. "But what Judy really taught me was who they were as people."

Graves' success in nearly four decades has been recognized by three honorary doctorates, among other things.


She encouraged those at the retirement party to continue the hard work to which she dedicated so many years.

"Don't go into the street to change anybody. It's not fair and it won't work," she urged. "Go into the street to change yourself."

Her plans for retirement? Graves hopes to get plenty of sleep, buy a bike and read a book cover to cover.

She'll also fly to Chartres, France, with all expenses paid, thanks to a gift from a small group of donors.