Sendzik says community ‘healing’ and ‘recovery’ focus of 2022
By Karena Walter, St. Catharines Standard Reporter
January 7, 2022.
The past two years have been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic but St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik is hoping 2022 is the year for healing.
With health experts saying the pandemic could reach a turning point in 2022, Sendzik said he’ll be very much focused on recovery, not just from an economic but social standpoint.
“This pandemic has created some cracks in our community as a whole,” he said in an interview about the year ahead.
“I think it’s important that as a council and as community leaders, we focus on also bringing people back together, because the strength of our community is how well we all work together. And what we want to ensure is, as we come out of the pandemic, that we’re continuing to work together.
“People have their differences in the community and we’ve seen that amplified over the last year and a half, two years. What we want to do is also focus on bringing people back together in positive and constructive ways.”
Divisions in the community were seen when Sendzik’s house and vehicles were vandalized, along with the property of St. Catharines Coun. Karrie Porter and MP Chris Bittle. Anti-vaccine protests targeted the home of Niagara’s acting medical officer of health.
Sendzik said there’s always going to be a small group that are not going to want to participate in the larger society, but the goal is to move the community forward in an inclusive way.
“Prior to Covid, we were focused on a compassionate city and a compassionate city is making sure that everyone sees themselves as part of the community and we want to continue that work,” he said, adding that includes bringing people from different sides of debates and issues together to focus on how the city rebuilds through the next stage of recovery.
When Sendzik talks about recovery and coming together, he’s not just talking about the divisions between people who are vocal about their stances on vaccines and lockdowns.
“There’s a larger space of healing that has to take place, and I think it’s incumbent upon community leaders, faith leaders, activists within the community to be an important part of that healing process,” he said.
“But we still have to get through the wave that we’re facing today. And that’s why I think 2022 is going to be a year of recovery, a year of rebuilding our resilience as a community, but also coming together in ways that start to heal what has been a very, very complex, challenging and traumatic time for many people.”
He sees the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games, still scheduled for August, as a significant opportunity for the community to set aside differences and celebrate together in a positive way.
For council, the focus in 2022 will also continue on affordable housing, the opioid crisis and homelessness — issues which came to the forefront even more during the pandemic.
In 2021, council sold a surplus property on Geneva Street with the strings attached that a redevelopment include social and affordable housing. It was a decision of council Sendzik says he’s most proud of and St. Catharines was one of the first cities in Ontario to make such a move.
The city also invested more than $350,000 into the Niagara Assertive Street Outreach Team by Gateway, which in November alone moved 26 people living in the rough into housing units.
“We aren’t ignoring the issues on the social side of the equation, whether it be housing or addictions or homelessness,” Sendzik said. “We’ve actually taken some of the most progressive leadership positions in all of Niagara around these issues.”
The 2022 agenda will see the continuation of the plan for regional transit, more private redevelopment projects downtown and the creation of a secondary plan to guide future development on the former General Motors property on Ontario Street.
With a municipal election coming up in October, council’s term is shorter this year.
Sendzik said he hasn’t made a decision on running a third time, saying he’s focused on getting the community through the fifth wave of the pandemic.