Walter Sendzik: 2019 is about reaching out and building up
St. Catharines mayor looks ahead to first year of new council term
by Luke Edwards Niagara This Week – St. Catharines
As St. Catharines grows and welcomes new residents, its mayor says the city must also continue looking after its own.
Fresh off a successful run for a second term as mayor, Walter Sendzik is looking ahead to a busy 2019 with three words in mind: optimism, momentum and compassion. The mayor of Niagara’s biggest city believes if he and council can keep that trio in mind then the municipality is in for a productive 2019.
“Building the kind of community that’s responsive and reflective of everyone in that community,” he said.
A few high-profile achievements in 2018 means, in the eyes of the mayor, the city has plenty of momentum going into 2019. Securing funding from the federal government for the Port Dalhousie piersand the early announcement of daily GO Transit service coming to the city were both significant for St. Catharines, he said.
“It (funding for the piers) was a big moment for us. We’ve been negotiating with the federal government for a couple of years,” he said.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed the piers in 2015, citing safety and structural issues. It took four years but in December the repair work contract was awarded to Bronte Construction, and this month construction began.
As for the GO announcement, Sendzik credited city staff with getting the GO secondary plan completed early. While the city was expecting trains to start rolling in 2021, the early start has allowed the city to move forward on projects that tie into the secondary plan.
With that wind at their backs, Sendzik is optimistic about 2019 and the coming years. He said a lot of last year was about getting the planning work done, and the city is already starting to see work trucks rolling and construction getting underway. He said residents can expect to see things happening at the old GM site, at old general hospital site, construction at the old Hotel Dieu Shaver site, among others.
With limited space to grow outward, the mayor said St. Catharines can expect to grow upward.
And as Niagara prepares to host the Canada Summer Games in 2021, Sendzik said the city will continue to work with Brock University and the City of Thorold to create infrastructure not just for the games, but beyond.
“It will be designed for the games, and for a generation after the games,” he said, adding the event should be used to inspire our local athletes of the future.
At Sendzik’s state of the city address two years ago he announced a goal of ending homelessness in the city. It’s a lofty goal and one that remains incomplete, but Sendzik said strides have been made. The city was able to help avert a deepening crisis last year when the future of the Out of the Cold program was in jeopardy. Out of the Cold struck a deal with the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre to use city-owned Robertson Hall three nights a week for the overnight shelter component of the program.
The emergency shelters, coupled with new affordable housing projects going up and other long-term housing programs, are only two thirds of the equation, though. Sendzik’s focus now is on rehabilitation.
He compared it to a physical injury. A person who breaks an arm will get immediate help at the hospital, go to rehab to relearn how to use and strengthen that arm, then may require longer term assistance before they are back to full health.
Someone facing homelessness should be treated the same way, he said. Organizations like Out of the Cold or the YWCA offer that emergency assistance, affordable housing can offer long term care. What’s missing is that rehabilitation.
Sendzik said it’s about “creating pathways of getting out of a homeless situation.”
After starting the Compassionate City campaign in 2015, Sendzik said continuing that movement means having compassion for the homeless population, and for other vulnerable people in the city.
Last year council unanimously voted to support a safe consumption site in the city. The mayor said he believes that sends a strong signal of compassion.