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Vancouver's homeless advocate retires today

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – She has given a voice to the voiceless for decades, but today is the last day on the job for the City of Vancouver‘s homeless advocate.

Judy Graves is heading off into retirement, looking back on a career spent changing the way we look at those who live on the street. One of the ways she did that was through a series of overnight walkabouts on the Downtown Eastside that led to her conducting the city’s first homeless count.

“I did the initial homeless count, but gradually over the course of a year and later, Metro Vancouver started doing the homeless count with a very solid methodology that we’re still using today.”

She’s proud of what it has become.

“You know, by nature I’m not a bureaucrat and I’m not a counter but I respect the power of having done the counts and the ability to quantify so that we can get resources for people,” she tells News1130.

It’s the people she has helped whom she will remember most fondly.

“Taking someone from the street into a place of their own, getting them settled in, and then stepping out into the hall and listening to them say goodbye and then the sound of the lock in the door closing and knowing that they’re in there, they’re safe, they’ve got privacy for the first time in years… that’s always the happiest sound in my life,” she explains.

Graves believes ending street homelessness is a goal that can be reached.

“It’s probably less than 300 people living in the street. Let’s just bring those people in. If any other city in the North America had such a small problem, they would have resolved it quickly and I think we can too,” she says.

“It’s a matter of the will of the politicians, but also the will of everyday people in Vancouver. If we all pitch together, we can absolutely have it done within the next couple of years.”

The 64-year-old admits there are no plans to replace her as homeless advocate but she is hoping the City reconsiders. “I think there’s a really important role for an advocate who can speak truth to power, who can tell them what they need to know with no spin, and with no fear of losing funding.”

Tonight, friends, colleagues, and clients will send her off with a retirement benefit at Heritage Hall, with donations being accepted on behalf of the Street to Home foundation in lieu of gifts.

Graves says she will spend some of her newfound downtime planning a vacation to France and playing with her grandchildren, but she also promises you haven’t seen the last of her.

“There’s some people in the street I’ve made commitments to help and I guess I’ll always be doing that. I can’t walk past a person, connect with them and then not do a little bit of what they need.”