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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.

We know that lack of affordable housing is a serious, and growing problem in our community. Over 5,000 households are on a wait list which continues to grow. We also know that 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.

  • A new Niagara Regional Housing developent at 527 Carlton St. will create 85 new units. This is the first NRH build in St. Catharines in over 40 years and it will go along way to serving the greatest needs on the wait list. Construction will start this year and residents will move in late 2018.
  • Housing Action Plan for the City of St. Catharines – will identify ways we can 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.
  • Working with other levels of government to get St. Catharines fair share of funding for housing. The federal and provincial governments have both committed to supporting cities and regions and providing funding for housing and social programs. Working with Niagara Region, we will work together to get people the homes they need.
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


In 2015 I attended a national conference on poverty reduction where I heard about the 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.

For the past two years I have led a working group  of Mayors, CAOs and transit managers from the cities of St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland with support from Niagara Region, to develop a plan for an integrated, user-focused transit system that serves the entire Niagara region.

  • In early 2017, the working group’s plan for integrated regional transit was approved unanimously by St. Catharines City Council, as well as Niagara Falls and Welland Councils.
  • In March 2017 Regional Council agreed to move ahead with an integrated transit system for Niagara.
  • This is an historic step forward for Niagara, and it shows us what is possible when we work together for the betterment of the entire Niagara region.

Read more about the plan and how we’re working together to improve public transit:

  • Strong support for inter-municipal transit
  • Inter-municipal Transit Working Group March 2017 Update
  • St. Catharines approves inter-municipal transit 
  • The Niagara Transit Service and Governance Strategy, Jan. 2017
    Inter-municipal transit working group

    The Inter-municipal transit working group of Mayors from St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Welland and support from Niagara Region, are working together to create an integrated, user-focused transit system that serves all of Niagara.

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

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.

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