211 – Connecting Canadians during the Pandemic

Life – as we’ve come to know it during the COVID-19 pandemic – has elevated the need for quick access to information about what is available in local communities to help with the most basic needs.

The vision for 211 has always been to provide a pan-Canadian service of a database of local community agencies and government services. The 211 database allows people to quickly connect with the supports available in their communities.

Across the country, 211 service providers are adapting to the needs of Canadians, as they respond to a surge in call volume brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. In today’s high-stress environment, 211 service providers have seen a spike in requests for mental health supports. There is also increased demand for information for vulnerable seniors, or for people who may be feeling more isolated than ever. In addition, 211’s navigational operators are also helping people who, for the first time in their life are out of work and need help applying for grants or programs.

Here are some of the ways the 211 Network is responding to COVID-19:

211 Saskatchewan: working together, apart

After the onset of the pandemic, there was an increase of more than 200 per cent in contacts to 211. These included calls about food – where to find it safely and securely. For example, vulnerable families that have relied on school meal programs to help feed their children need help to find an alternative meal program to meet their needs.

Many community-serving organizations have had to close their own doors to ensure the safety of their staff and clients. These are the recreation or community centres or food kitchens that are used regularly by vulnerable people both to socialize and integrate with their community, but also to get help with issues that may be worsened by the stress brought on by the pandemic. With these centres closed, people who regularly use them can feel more alone and anxious. 211 helps people across Canada access mental health supports that still provide the safety of physical distancing.

211 Ontario

In Toronto, the hospital network has teamed up with 211 to help patients deal with the economic blow of COVID-19. 211, the University Health Network, a hospital and research organization, and West Neighbourhood House are working together to connect vulnerable people with financial counsellors for issues such as tax deferrals, understanding credit and how to manage their money safely.

In March, just as the impact of COVID-19 was beginning to be felt in Ontario communities, United Way Hastings Prince Edward, (UWHPE) partnered with organizations like Proctor & Gamble, Volunteer and Information Quinte (VIQ), the Community Development Council, and Belleville Community Trust to respond to effects of  pandemic in that community. Part of this response has been to provide simple and direct access to information about services and supports in the community. VIQ is the local data provider for 211, and when using this database volunteers can be connected where they are needed, and residents can connect to get the help and supports they need every day. Even if it is just a friendly phone call, or help filling out forms – 211 is a community partner that is ready to help.

British Columbia:  bc211 grows

In British Columbia, bc211 expanded its footprint to cover the entire province. Prior to the pandemic, 211 service was available in limited locations. On March 26, the Province announced a province-wide expansion, as part of the Safe Seniors, Strong Community program, a joint initiative between United Way Lower Mainland’s Better at Home program, bc211 and the British Columbia Provincial Government through the Ministry of Health. Today seniors across the province can call 211 to request volunteer help with grocery shopping, meal preparation and prescription pick-up or to receive friendly check-in call. Seniors can also ask for help by filling in an online form at www.bc211.ca. Seniors who contact the program will be matched with a volunteer to help them with their errands.

Here is  211’s footprint in Canada.