Kitchener-Waterloo

Have a problem? Try dialing 211

The United Way has designated February 11 as “211 Day” across North America to raise awareness of the information phone line that helps connect callers to local health and social services.

Information phone line for health and social services an 'underutilized' resource, United Way says

The United Way The non-profit has designated February 11 as “211 Day.” The helpline connects callers to local health and social services, including newcomer services, housing centres and volunteer organizations. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Most people have heard of 311, 411 and of course 911, but the United Way is hoping to draw attention to a lesser-known information phone line that helps connect callers to local health and social services.

The non-profit has designated February 11 as "211 Day" across North America to raise awareness of the 211 help line.

Sonya Heyen, the manager of development and communications with Perth-Huron United Way, says 211 operators help callers identify their problems and find solutions.

"You might face a problem where you've lost a job. You can call 211 and say I've lost my job and you can list your challenges that you're facing, and then the 211 is a conduit to connect you to what's available to help you in your own community," Heyen said.

In Ontario, 211 is operated as a partnership between the United Way and the provincial government.

The help line offers information on newcomer services, food banks, housing centres, senior services, government social services, disability support and volunteer organizations.

Local United Way chapters have teams of volunteers that collect detailed information on what programs are available in their communities, Heyen said.

That information is then stored in a database that can be accessed online or by calling 211. Heyen said 211 operators are also trained to help people in crisis and can offer the service in more than 150 languages.

While the 211 phone line is confidential and offered in more than 150 languages, Heyen says all of the information is also available online through a searchable database. (211ontario.ca)

But while the help line addresses a wide range of needs, Heyen said it's often underutilized.

"For our our area in Perth, it was accessed about 800 times. But the more that it's accessed, the more we can even understand what the needs are in the communities," she said.

She added that if more people are aware of 211 and the services it can provide, they will be less likely to make non-urgent calls to 911, freeing up the line for emergency situations.

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