500 Coffees #51 – Judy Graves

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A little over 50 weeks ago I read a theory that going for 50 coffees with people you’ve never met is the entrepreneur’s equivalent to the theory that doing anything for 10,000 hours will make you an expert on it. While I get the idea, 50 coffees is far easier than practicing something for ten years, and while I’m far from lazy I decided to set out on a fairly simple mission: over 50 weeks I decided to invite 50 interesting Vancouverites, most of whom I had never met before, to go for coffee. I used this as an exercise in networking for myself and for V.I.A. while also using it as a platform to introduce you to some people who are doing really cool stuff in the city you live in.

COFFEE #51
Name: Judy Graves
Occupation: Advocate for the Homeless
Beverage: Coffee

Meet Judy Graves. First described to me by a friend as “the Mother Theresa of Vancouver”, she’s been working in the Downtown Eastside since 1979 and is the recent recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal as well as two honourary doctorate degrees for her work in helping the homeless.

Judy is one of the least likely characters you might find working for the City of Vancouver (or any City, for that matter) partly because her job seems so abstract at first glance. On her official CoV business card (which she gave to me as we sat down in her office at Woodward’s after grabbing coffee from JJ Bean downstairs) her title is “Advocate for the Homeless”, and after answering many of my questions about what it is exactly that she does day-to-day (it’s complicated but simple: she’s an advocate for the homeless) we got into one of the most enlightening conversations I’ve had in a long time. Homelessness in Vancouver is a complex issue of which I don’t know a whole lot about and I walked into our meeting not knowing what we were going to discuss aside from hoping for a crash course in social housing and learning the difference between a Downtown Eastside SRO and the social housing that my neighbours In the Village live in. I walked out with a greater knowledge of, and compassion for, people who live on the streets, and the work that needs to be done in order to help solve street homelessness.


Judy and Babs

I’ve kept these coffee features short and sweet as I’ve treated them as brief introductions to these folks whom I’m meeting with, but this introduction to Judy is a bit different. This marks a slight turn for V.I.A.. Where we once had a more black and white approach to editorial where we wouldn’t really tackle heavy issues because the subjects themselves (homelessness, in this case) weren’t inherently something to be celebrated (not easily describable as “Awesome”), you may have noticed we’ve switched that up lately and are publishing more and more features about people coming up with positive solutions in and for our city. That is really Awesome.

In the coming weeks I’m going to take you inside some homeless shelters and hopefully demystify what it means when our Mayor says that 4 new temporary winter shelters are opening this season. I’m going to show you where those shelters are and you’ll probably be surprised to learn that they’re right under your nose, in your neighbourhood, and they’re not something to be scared of.

Learn more about Judy in THIS piece from Vancouver Magazine, and stay tuned for those upcoming features on the shelters.

AND stay tuned for 449 more Coffees!