Ten years ago, psychiatric survivor Terence Williams was isolated and collecting disability support. But when he learned about the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre, it turned his life around.

The organization serves people in the mental health system, psychiatric survivors, the homeless, refugees, new immigrants and low-income men, women and families, said Williams.

Now an ambassador for the organization, he talks to the public “to change stigma attached to mental illness, homelessness and poverty” and to educate local residents who may oppose the development of affordable housing projects in their neighbourhoods.

Williams was one of the speakers at the 2009 Community Forum on Homelessness yesterday.

Held to coincide with National Housing Day, the forum, presented by the Alliance to End Homelessness, gathers researchers, housing and homeless advocates and city staff to share ideas — all with the common goal of ending homelessness, said alliance chairwoman Marion Wright.

“This takes what’s going on in research and turns it into action,” she said.

“One of the things we can do is hold the politicians at the three levels accountable for doing a number of things,” said Wright. “One is a national housing strategy, and two would be to look at supports for individuals who have mental health and addiction issues.”

The government has failed to deliver on their affordable housing strategy in Ottawa, Wright said.

While there have been 134 new units built this year, it’s a long way off from the target of 500 units a year, Wright said.

In 2008, 7,044 individuals in Ottawa, including 1,179 children under 16, stayed in emergency shelters. By mid-year, shelters were running out of beds every night.

“And this was before the economic downturn that has so characterized this year,” Wright said.

“For the 2009 report card, we’re expecting even more staggering numbers.”

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