People gathered Wednesday to remember the life of an outreach worker who touched many lives after overcoming his own addiction, and who consistently held the community and its leadership to account for its treatment of the homeless.

Pete Cassidy, who was 54, died over the weekend of natural causes. A memorial service was held for him Wednesday afternoon at the Jack Purcell Community Centre.

Cassidy was open about his experience as a drug addict living on the streets.

He cleaned up 14 years ago and began reaching out to the homeless population in Ottawa. As founder of Street Smarts, he handed out clean clothes, sleeping bags and food, and he was well known for his hugs.

Street Smarts was supported by Jewish Family Services. The executive director of Jewish Family Services, Mark Zarecki, said Cassidy brought a human touch to the job, and that he wasn't afraid to tell people what he thought they were doing wrong.

'Rough on the exterior but he had a heart of gold'

Ottawa Human Library Pete Cassidy

Pete Cassidy was a street outreach worker who got clean after drug addiction. He died over the weekend, at the age of 54. (CBC)

"He's rough on the exterior but he had a heart of gold," Zarecki said. "I think anybody who connected with him felt that he was a personal friend to them.

Cassidy was also a "very prophetic" figure, Zarecki said.

"He would reflect to the community and the leadership the flaws in the community and leadership," Zarecki said. "And I think, as much as people on the street loved him, the bureaucracy didn't, because he would advocate for the street people and how the police treat street people, he would advocate for how the shelters were not necessarily doing the best job they could, and that sort of put him on the fringe of those institutions.

"I think that's the biggest loss. He really was the social conscience of poor people, and we've lost that."

Earlier this year Cassidy took part in CBC Ottawa's Human Library project, which allows people to sit down with experts in different fields.

Describing his own legacy, he said: "I'm proud I've been clean as long as I have, I'm really proud of my daughter who I love to death. My legacy will be my daughter and Street Smarts."