On February 11, the entire nation will be celebrating 211 Day. This year, for the first time, anyone living anywhere in Canada can pick up the phone and dial 2-1-1 to reach a Service Navigator for information on community-based health, social and government services in or near their community. The service is free, confidential, 24/7 in most of Canada and available in more than 150 languages.
The 211 call service expanded across the northern region last spring. Since then, United Way has been encouraging all the residents to visit BC211 online or call 2-1-1 if they need help finding any social service assistance around them. This service is available for everyone, 24/7.
It’s no coincidence that this major initiative was launched amidst the challenges Canadians are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. On October 15, 2020 the Government of Canada, in partnership with United Way Centraide Canada, announced funding to activate the nationwide expansion of 211. The government also announced funding to support existing 211 services experiencing surging demand.
The needs people expressed in calls with 211 revealed some of the acute symptoms of the COVID-19 lockdown measures on the lives of Canadians. In April of 2020, 211 received more than nine times as many requests for food-related needs, and more than three times as many requests related to financial assistance relative to baseline call volumes in January and February of 2020. As Canadians grappled with the effects of COVID-19 on their lives, the national 211 network experienced a 30 per cent increase in total call volume over the previous year (March – December) and as the pandemic wore on, the needs expressed by callers shifted. In the second half of 2020, calls related to housing support and mental health and addictions rose sharply. By December, the number of requests related to housing had risen by one third relative to December 2019 call volumes, and requests for information and referrals for mental health and addiction services had doubled. Throughout the pandemic, 211 has and will continue to provide Canadians with help navigating the support services available during this challenging time.
For decades, United Way Centraide Canada has championed the creation and expansion of 2-1-1 services. Knowing where to turn when you are faced with challenges in your life is not often simple. 211 helps people to navigate the system and find support quickly and easily, which takes the strain off agencies and other services like 911 who would otherwise be handling these calls.
With a national 211 system and growing awareness of the service, we can also begin to analyze data about the types of services people are looking for by region, or even neighbourhood, which will help us, community service agencies, government, and others to better serve the specific needs of people in those communities and across the country.
Prior to the expansion, 211 was only available in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and most of Quebec. The first 211 was opened in 2002 in Toronto and expanded steadily to other provinces through funding support from local United Way Centraides and provincial and municipal governments.
JOIN US IN CELEBRATING 211 DAY
Help us celebrate by sharing information about 211 and the potential it has to help so many people. Just take one of these simple actions to help spread the word:
1. Add a 211 day frame to your Facebook profile picture.
2. Download and print the 211 Day colouring sheet and post your own colourful 211 logo creation in your front window to inform your neighbours about 211.
3. Visit Mr. PG! To celebrate the national expansion of 211, 36 places (including buildings, monuments, and landmarks) across Canada will participate in the nationwide United Glow. These major sites across Canada will join us by illuminating their facades in 211 red. Mr. PG in Prince George is one of the 36 sites that will illuminate in 211 red. If it is safe to do so, consider taking a walk or drive to take a photo and share it on social media using the #211DayCanada and #unitedwaynbc hashtags.