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Profile: Judy Graves

There are any number of agencies trying to address the homelessness issue. And then there’s Judy Graves
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Judy Graves
Judy Graves Greg Geipel
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There are any number of agencies trying to address the homelessness issue. And then there’s Judy Graves

They met eight years ago, when Judy Graves was walking through a West End alley. “When you’re ready,” she told him, “give me a call.” Last week he did. “I still drink like a fish,” Jim warned her, “but I’m off drugs, and I want a home.”

Now, they’re lighting cigarettes outside the brick welfare building at the corner of Main and Powell. They’ve already had breakfast and filled out an application, and they’re back to pick up a downpayment for his room. They have the same grey-brown hair—his in a navel-length beard, hers in a dishevelled bob—and they have a giddy sense of shared mission, like a couple getting their first mortgage.

“I’ve been homeless for nine years, and I’ve got to answer 68 questions?”

“About your investments, and your real-estate properties!” she says.

“And my trust fund!”

Later, as they wait for their appointment, he jokes that he’ll probably wait at the pearly gates while someone tells him sorry, we lost your form.

“No, that would be hell,” Graves says. “Heaven, you should be able to talk your way into.”

Most elements of Jim’s story are familiar to Graves. He was once a foreman at a logistics plant in Guelph, Ontario, that shipped a million pounds of parts a night to General Motors factories. For almost a decade now he’s made a living collecting and returning bottles. Alcoholics tend to go downhill. He’s lost some teeth, and oral decay can migrate to the heart. Breathing in car fumes at street level can cause emphysema and other lung diseases. But he’s unusually intelligent and has retained an excellent memory.

She finds it interesting to hear him go back and forth between the intellectual understanding of his addiction and the befuddlement of not being able to act on it. She loves his blond eyelashes, and thought it was hilarious and deeply moral when he said, technically, he’s never stolen anything. She figures that West Enders have been kind to him because he’s so likable. She’s seen the overhang behind a hair salon where he negotiated a place to sleep, and it’s swept clean. She has no doubt he’ll be a good tenant.

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