Navigating health, government, legal and even public safety services can be a challenge. It is hard to know who to call and even where to find the number. That is where 211 comes in; the service helps individuals navigate the complex network of human services quickly and easily, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in over 150 languages by simply dialing 2-1-1.
The 211 service is available in communities across North America and launched in Kingston and the surrounding area in 2010. Funded in part by the United Way of KFL&A and the City of Kingston, 211 helps residents connect with the right services at the right time, and perhaps even more importantly, take some of the burden off of emergency service providers.
“It is a valuable service because people are able to call and get the help they need,” said Marc Goudie, Deputy Chief of Performance Standards with Frontenac Paramedic Services. “If they have a non-life-threatening situation and they aren’t sure who to call, 211 is a great place to start and if that can take any burden off of 911 and emergency rooms then that is great.”
For emergency responders and emergency managers, 211 works to provide a channel for authoritative information to the public regarding non-urgent needs and services, allowing them to focus their resources on their core mandate.
“I think anything that helps with prevention strategies and more proactive services for people who are in need, will reduce the need for emergency services to go out and treat someone that is having a crisis or some kind of issue that they may not need emergency care for,” said Kingston Fire and Rescue Chief, Shawn Armstrong. “Coordinating the services under one number can really help find the best service for the client in the most efficient way.”
In 2018, 211 answered 283,789 calls in Ontario, connecting individuals with 60,000 community and social services across the province – everything from health care services to housing, as well as senior and youth services.
February 11 is 211 Day across North America, a public awareness day, reminding people of the service. In some areas, awareness is still an obstacle.
“The 211 service is free, confidential, 24/7 and helps make our community social service network more accessible to those in need, including all the programs offered locally by agencies and government,” said Bhavana Varma, President and CEO of United Way KFL&A. “211 is a lifeline for those difficult life changes anyone of us might encounter. 211 Day is a great way to make the community aware of this valuable resource.”
As awareness builds, 211 aims to become a number community members know and trust to provide the right resources and on February 11th they will expand their service to include an online chat on their website and even an email option as well.
“I think awareness and convenience is key for a service like 211,” said Armstrong. “If more community members knew about the service they would use it and we are happy to help spread the word too.”
For more information about 211 or to use the online chat option visit https://211ontario.ca/ and for 211 services dial 2-1-1. Community members should always call 9-1-1 for a life-threatening emergency, when a property is in danger or a crime is in progress that requires the police, fire or paramedics.