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St. Catharines, a Compassionate City

A City of Dignity, Respect and Opportunity

St. Catharines is a great place to live, do business, and raise a family, but it's not the same for everyone. Many families and individuals live in poverty and struggle with homelessness, hunger and isolation.

When I was elected Mayor, I made a commitment to address poverty in our city and I've spent the last year learning from service providers and individuals with lived experience. I've read about what other cities are doing and approaches that other mayors have taken. There are many strategies and approaches.

I believe that the best way for us to really address these issues is by building a culture of compassion and understanding and by working together. I believe that we all have a role to play and I want to help build a compassionate city that takes care of all of its citizens. A city where everyone matters!

This approach is focused on action and cultural change. It is about empowering everyone in our city - from city staff to community workers and volunteers - to be a part of a more positive future for our friends and neighbours in need. It starts from within - within each of us as individuals, within our organizations and within City Hall.

This website will help you find information about how we are building a compassionate city and how you can get involved.

You can also find resources and get connected with many of the social agencies that provide compassionate care. If you're in need, please don't hesitate to reach out. And if you can help, please do.

- Mayor Walter Sendzik

Mayor Walter Sendzik with him are Elisabeth Zimmermann, left, executive director of the YWCA and chair of the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network, and Standard reporter Cheryl Clock.
Mayor Walter Sendzik with him are Elisabeth Zimmermann, left, executive director of the YWCA and chair of the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network, and Standard reporter Cheryl Clock. Photo from St. Catharines Standard

My friend Tim Arnold from Southridge Shelter has taught me a lot about compassion. Compassion is the powerful outcome when we combine CARE and ACTION.

A compassionate city provides dignity, respect and opportunity for all of its residents.

A compassionate community is where we can all come together to do what we can to help and support neighbours in need. Whether it is financial support, food or clothing donations, volunteering your time, taking part in fundraisers or simply reaching out to the people around you to show friendship and care, we all have a role to play. It’s about an attitude and a community lifestyle.

Poverty and homelessness are very real problems in St. Catharines. Every day  hundreds of women, men and families take advantage of shelters, food banks and other social services, and many more live on the street.

It’s important to understand the reality. Here are some very disturbing facts about poverty in our city:

  • The Community Care food bank serves close to 30,000 lbs of food a week.
  • Physical and mental illness are major contributing factors in poverty and homelessness.  We don’t have sufficient doctors and other medical services to help, despite the dedicated efforts of mental health and related organizations and workers.
  • Last year, 1,254 women and 444 children used the YWCA emergency shelters.
  • The Southridge Shelter served over 32,000 meals in 2015 and had an average of 29 people staying in their facility every night of the year.
  • It’s estimated that poverty costs $1.38 billion per year in Niagara alone.
  • Niagara has been hit with job losses, a decline in manufacturing and economic restructuring. We’re starting to bounce back but Niagara still has one of the highest unemployment rates in Ontario, hovering at 8.5%.
  • 70% of people who are homeless have full time jobs. They’re known as the “invisible homeless”, moving from friend to friend and eventually running out of places to stay.

Poverty Statistics

St. Catharines has a long and proud history of service and giving. There are many organizations in the community which provide services, support and resources to people in need- from emergency shelters to food banks to skills programs and outreach services. Reach out and ask what you can do to help.  Download the Compassionate City Guide Book for information and contacts.

It’s also important to understand  the issues that impact our residents – our friends and neighbours and classmates. It’s important for us to discuss these issues so that we can focus in on solutions.

One of the easiest and most powerful things you can do is just stop and say hello to the people you meet on our sidewalks, coffee shops and parks. A friendly smile can go a long way towards creating compassion and understanding in our community.

We are all a part of building a community where everyone is safe, healthy and has opportunities to participate. Building a compassionate city really begins with each of us as individual citizens.

Photo from Scott Rosts - Niagara This Week

Photo from Scott Rosts – Niagara This Week

Priority Issues

Compassionate City: A new approach to customer service, housing and transit

It starts from within. From corporate training and development at City Hall to improving transit and affordable housing options, these are areas that the City and Region can have a direct impact.

These are priority issues I am working to address as Mayor and a Regional Councillor. With a lens of compassion and understanding, we can see issues in a different way and begin to look for solutions through policy and partnerships.

Through corporate training and development  we are building awareness of the issues of poverty, homelessness and mental health so that our staff at City Hall, in our parks and recreation centres, and working out in the community are prepared and empowered to respond.

With more than 600 employees, the City of St. Catharines is often on the front lines of community service, interacting with people who are looking for help. This is especially true at the Mayor’s Office.

This is where it starts from within – building a culture of compassion and customer service from within the City of St. Catharines and into the community.

  • “It’s about corporate training and development based on the concept of building from within. We have 600-plus employees that we can train and build awareness with… They touch every part of our community and if they have the confidence and resources when they’re out and see some of the cues, they can try to mitigate the condition in which some of these people are living.” More from Niagara This Week

We know that affordable housing is a serious problem in our community. Over 5,000 households are on a wait list which continues to grow.  We also know that having a decent, safe and affordable place to call home is critical for mental and physical health, for accessing social services and to be able to return to school or work. Everyone needs a safe place to live.

As Mayor and a member of the Niagara Regional Housing board I will look through a lens of compassion for new ways to address the need for affordable housing in our community. We will seek partnership opportunities to work with developers and create incentives for affordable housing in new construction. We’ll look for creative and innovative solutions to reduce the property tax burden for public housing properties so that more money can go directly to reducing the waiting list.

City of St. Catharines helping out at Habitat for Humanity - Photo by Councillor Mike Britton

City of St. Catharines helping out at Habitat for Humanity – Photo by Councillor Mike Britton

We will also work with the provincial and federal government to secure funding for social housing and programs to get people the homes they need.

Last year at a national conference on poverty reduction I heard about the real value of public transit in addressing poverty. Efficient, reliable and affordable public transit is critical to grow our economy, get people to jobs, school and health care.

A working group on inter-municipal transit is dedicated to improving local transit and inter-municipal connections in Niagara. Together the cities of St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland, with support from Niagara region are working on a plan to improve inter-municipal transit. This includes connectivity, customer service and efficiency so that people can get to school, work and social services.

In September 2016 the working group presented a progress report on the work to date and stakeholder consultations. The working group will present recommendations for inter-municipal transit late in 2016.

Improved public transit is critical for the future of our community, and for the people who live, work and study here. I’m committed to building one transit system to service Niagara.

  • Read the September 2016 Inter-municipal Transit Working Group Progress Report
  • “We need to modernize our transit systems in Niagara. The way forward is through the transit systems of St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland coming to the table… More from the St. Catharines Standard

There are many other challenges and many other issues to overcome to address poverty and homelessness. While I am focused on the issues that the City and Niagara Region can have a direct impact on, I believe it’s important for us to talk about the reality of poverty and its effects.

I invite you to share your ideas about these issues and let’s talk about solutions. As a compassionate city, we can create space for conversations and sharing ideas.

Your feedback and participation is welcome.

In the News

Latest News about St. Catharines: Compassionate City
#CompassionateSTC interview on The Source
#CompassionateSTC interview on The Source

The ideas about care and compassion to create positive change in our community are really resonating. I’m proud to see the leadership of the JCI St. Catharines through #CompassionateSTC social media campaign. ...

The Compassionate City Project: Compassion can starts with simple acts – Jessica Potts
The Compassionate City Project: Compassion can starts with simple acts – Jessica Potts

  The Compassionate City Project: Compassion can starts with simple acts This article originally appeared in Niagara This Week on Feb. 2, 2017 By Jessica Potts Compassion is like a yellow Volkswagen – once it’s on your radar, you see it all over the place. This past weekend, I kicked off the #CompassionateSTC project, a year-long […]

#CompassionateSTC: Central Community Church

I recently visited with Pastors Bill Markham and John Gallo from Central Community Church on Scott St – an important community institution with a large congregation and many outreach programs and services. Central Church has been around for many years and continues to grow as an active member of our community. Here’s our chat about what […]

Mayor Sendzik meets with Chief McGuire to discuss Queenston Street community response
Mayor Sendzik meets with Chief McGuire to discuss Queenston Street community response

July 26, 2016 – St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik met with Niagara Regional Police Chief Jeff McGuire this week to discuss community issues and police activity in the Queenston Street and Gale Crescent neighbourhood. The discussion with the Chief comes after the Mayor held meetings with local business owners, service agencies, public health officials and […]