By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Christeen Thornton admits that many people find what she’s doing to be a bit strange.
When she knocks on their door, many are wary, many think she’s either a politician or a salesperson, and many are even more shocked when they learn what she’s really doing. She’s not asking, she’s giving.
“That blows people’s minds a little bit,” Thornton says.
The door knocking is only a piece of the efforts that Thornton and her partner have undertaken as part of their recently launched organization, DIRE (Direct Intervention Reaching Everyone). The goal is simply an attempt to get help to those who need it, and more importantly, to those who need it, and may be too shy to ask.
“There are a lot of people who don’t know how to ask for help and who also sort of feel like they’re bugging people when they ask for help with things,” Thornton says. “We want to make sure that the people who want help, and maybe they don’t really want to ask for it, that they still get it.”
The motivation behind the initiative came from multiple sources, and started last year when Thornton attempted to affect some change at city hall. Having seen and heard from other tenants about the issues faced by renters across Oshawa, Thornton took the idea of expanding the city’s Residential Rental Housing Licensing (RRHL) system city-wide. The licensing system, which currently exists in the area around the Durham College and UOIT north Oshawa campuses, requires landlords to maintain clean and safety accommodations for their tenants.
Despite some discussion, the idea was eventually quashed by councillors.
Now, with the recent deaths of four people in a fire on Centre Street in January, and the lack of working smoke alarms in the home, Thornton says that now is the time for action.
Currently, the organization is placing a priority on providing people with batteries for their smoke alarms, as for many low income families, the costs of batteries can be too much.
DIRE has already provided over 100 “tenant care packages” to people in the community, which along with the batteries, also includes pamphlets and other resources for low income renters to help them with common issues and questions. Thornton has also launched a Go Fund Me page in attempt to solicit funds and battery donations to assist with the program.
However, that’s not to say DIRE is only tackling tenant isssues, as Thornton explains, the issues are varied and affect many people across the city.
“We’re identifying needs as we go, sort of organically and then we are addressing them as we can with what resources we have available to us,” she says. “We want people to feel that they’re not alone, really that’s the base message.”
And being a mother in a low income situation, Thornton says she’s lived and has had personal experiences with many of the issues people are dealing with.
“I get it, I understand what it’s like to be ignored at the council level, to be ignored at the Landlord Tenant Board level and it can be better,” she says.
However, the lack of progress and the appearance of nowhere to turn leaves many feeling hopeless, Thornton says, and she hopes that DIRE can be that light for many people.
“It’s a community movement, it’s about galvanizing the community to support the community,” she says.
For more information about DIRE, to provide support or get involved as a volunteer, visit the DIRE Facebook page.