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Ottawa man shares story of homelessness, alcoholism and his recovery

Housing is one of the five issues Mayor Jim Watson has highlighted as most important for voters in Ottawa in the upcoming provincial election.

Experts in the field agree that providing affordable housing is the most effective way to fix chronic homelessness. They've found having a place to live enables people to rescue themselves.

"It's not only the bricks and mortar and it's not only the price. It has to have the elements that allow someone to experience inclusion," said Carleton University associate professor Fran Klondawski, who specializes in housing and homelessness.

"Inclusion means that you have the building blocks to look for a job, you have the building blocks to take care of your personal needs so that if you go for an interview you can look like someone who would be able to be successful in that job," she said.

One Ottawa man learned the importance of a safe, clean, stable place to live after his life changed completely in a downward spiral he didn't realize had taken over until he had lost everything.

John, whose last name has been withheld at his request, had a wife and two sons, a good job in a field he loved and a home. But when he and his wife split after nearly 20 years of marriage he made the devastating decision to leave her.

Living alone for the first time in years John was at a loss for how to fill his time and he fell in with a group of people who drank consistently. He found himself becoming an alcoholic.

The 50-year-old slowly lost everything, his job, his savings, his family, and finally realized he'd hit rock bottom.

"I was sleeping under the bridge at Hunt Club, I'd been there for two weeks in a tent, and I drank, the last night, 40 ounces of vodka and passed out. What woke me up was the ice cold water in the river and I was inside the tent," John.

By the time he cut himself free he was up to his neck in the frigid waters and knew he'd narrowly escaped drowning.

He immediately went for help, asking a friend to drive him to rehab so that he could get his life back.

It didn't come easy though. He went through rehab twice. He even found a job and housing but when that fell through because the landlady went bankrupt John relapsed and realized the program alone wasn't enough and he needed a complete change.

At the Ottawa Mission he was able to stay on the dry wing in his own clean, safe space where he received intensive care, not just support for the alcoholism but for him as a person. He learned to become more positive and to reflect on the harm he'd caused other people.

Then staff at the Ottawa Mission helped him get back on track. Client services helped him find a place to live and connect with an employment service.

"They got me suits, to go to interviews through the YMCA ... everywhere I turned there was someone to help me," John said.

He ended up being hired by a company he'd worked for previously, employed as a superintendent.

"I still was worried about the problem of no housing but they just said, 'no you're going to have a two bedroom,' so I killed two birds with one stone," he said.

He is still living there and working in the job as a superintendent. It's been six months since he sat down with CFRA for an interview but a phone call Tuesday afternoon found John still thriving.

Best of all he's reconnected with his sons who helped him get his apartment set up, and now they visit regularly.

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