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Judy Graves, Vancouver advocate for the homeless, to run in city by-election

Judy Graves is seen in Vancouver in May, 2013, just before she retired from her work in Vancouver’s civil service.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

One of Vancouver's most prominent advocates for the homeless has become the first declared candidate for a city by-election, saying that the current civic government's failures on housing have prompted her to run.

Judy Graves will run with a party called OneCity in a coming vote to fill the seat left vacant by former councillor Geoff Meggs.

Mr. Meggs, who was a member of the ruling Vision Vancouver party, resigned his seat after taking a job for the New Democrats as they prepare to take power in Victoria.

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The Vision Vancouver party "just seemed to lose interest in homelessness, in tenancy, in the population that exists in the city," Ms. Graves said.

Vision still has a majority on council even without Mr. Meggs, but the by-election will serve as an early test of the parties' positions ahead of the general civic elections in October, 2018. Opposition parties such as OneCity are hoping for a boost as they challenge Vision for control of council next year.

Ms. Graves worked for the city for decades, starting out in a job responsible for tenant relocation.

However, she initiated new efforts to help people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness, sometimes on her own time, doing middle-of-the-night walks to identify where homeless people were living and the best ways of connecting them to services.

She's been awarded a couple of honorary degrees, as well as the freedom-of-the-city award in 2014. She retired in 2013.

Ms. Graves was active in working with the new Vision Vancouver in 2009, when newly elected Mayor Gregor Robertson kicked off a major initiative to get people off the streets.

A task force he set up recommended creating winter shelters that would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the cold months, rather than relying on the old provincial system of emergency shelters in churches and other facilities that were only open during extreme cold or wet weather.

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Ms. Graves said in those early years that those new shelters were helping connect people entrenched in street life to services. She also praised the party's aggressive efforts to ensure homeless people were getting units in new social-housing buildings that the province was opening.

But in the past couple of years, her assessment changed.

Now, she says, homelessness is increasing, young people are being forced out of the city, seniors are feeling desperate and service workers in Vancouver have to commute for hours to get to their jobs from the only housing they can afford in the suburbs.

"We've felt the existing council has no interest except to move us out to make room for newcomers," Ms. Graves said. "We want a city that is working to keep the people who are already here."

The party that Ms. Graves will be working with, OneCity, was formed just before the 2014 election from a group of people who had left the city's former sole left-wing party, the Coalition of Progressive Electors, as it became dominated by former councillor Tim Louis and what was seen as an increasingly dogmatic group. Some supporters were also defectors from Vision Vancouver who were disenchanted with how centrist that party had become.

RJ Aquino, a spokesman for OneCity, said it has become the home to a lot of progressive people who "are beginning to pay attention to civic politics and understand how problematic Vision is."

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Running for a citywide council position in the 2014 election, Mr. Aquino got 30,000 votes under the OneCity banner, very close to the 31,000 that Mr. Louis got and about 15,000 votes fewer than Green Party candidate Pete Fry, who is also considering running in the by-election. Mr. Fry was not among the 10 councillors elected that year.

The by-election is expected to be set for mid-October.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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