211: The Lifeline to Community and Human Services
"Thank you for calling 211. Sandy speaking. How may I help you?" The caller sounded frantic. The gas in his house was about to be shut off after falling behind on payments.Employment insurance just wasn't enough to cover all the bills. It was a choice between putting food on the table for his young family or paying the utility bill. He quickly got to his plea – was there anyone who could help?
On the other end, Sandy, a veteran Information & Referral specialist, with the Lakehead Social Planning Council’s 211 North program, did not miss a beat. She gave the caller the appropriate referral and number to contact, and assured him that if he did not get the help he needed, to call back. 20 seconds later, the next call was coming through.
In the next half hour, Sandy received calls from a desperate single father needing cheaper child care for his 3 year old; a food bank volunteer who found a family with three children living in a van on the church property; an elderly woman who had been served an eviction notice, had to be out of her apartment in a month, and didn't know where to start; and a nervous mom needing a walk-in clinic for her toddler who had a fever and couldn't stop coughing.
“It can get pretty hectic trying to find resources for some of the callers,” Sandy said,“We’re always busy during the day and more so now that winter’s here. It’s the season when callers are not only looking for help but want to give help. We empower them with the information they need to make choices.”
Linked to the database of over 12,000 programs and services, 6 highly trained and certified Information & Referral specialists try to help people who call from anywhere in Northern Ontario. “With 211, callers can explain their issues and get a deeper level of help,” said Marie Klassen, Lakehead Social Planning Council’s Director of Services. “There’s always a reason there’s no food on the table, why people are being evicted or why families are still without physicians.” Klassen said, “the free call is designed to connect people in need with local nonprofits.” She says “it also helps 211 staff track who’s hurting where.”
"It's a really great way to know how needs are changing, what's happening on a day-by-day basis," said Klassen. That information helps inform what United Way plans to do in the community, what other funders do in the region, what governments and non-profit providers do to insure that the needs of folks in our community are met."
Whom do you turn to if you are facing eviction, if you can’t pay your heating bill, if you need home care for your aging parents or home renovations due to a disability? What if you suspect your neighbour is being abused or if you need protective services or shelter? Perhaps you’re new to town, completely lost, and unsure how to access services. Too many people fall through the cracks because they fail to make human contact at a critical moment, or the person they have called refers them elsewhere, and they get discouraged.
The 211 line allows you to talk to a real person 24/7. With its one-stop-shopping concept, 211 minimizes frustration for a caller who is confused or overwhelmed. But it also optimizes the human services system as a whole, by directing the traffic of human need where it’s supposed to go, instead of allowing individuals’ and institutions’ time and resources to be continually consumed by countless wrong turns. Data analysis from 211 calls identifies gaps in the system.
The United Way of Thunder Bay is addressing social issues in our community and investing in 3 critical areas: Moving people from poverty to possibility; Fostering a strong community; Helping kids to be all they can be. Your donations are improving lives for local people every day. By donating to the 2014 United Way campaign you can support 29 organizations and 63 vital programs, one of which is 211. To learn more about United Way’s supported programs go to www.uwaytbay.ca or call 623-6420 today.
The Lakehead Social Planning Council is located at 125 S. Syndicate Ave. inside the Victoriaville Centre Mall and can be reached at 624-1720. For 211 services simply dial 2-1-1, visit LSPC, or go to www.211ontario.ca or www.211ontarionorth.ca