Every day thousands of people across North America turn to 2-1-1 for information.
“Knowledge is power,” said Elena Francesci. “We usually tell people that you don’t know about 211 until you need it.”
Francesci has been working the front lines of bc211 for the past two years. The Vancouver-based nonprofit is a “gateway” for access to 14,500 different government social and community services. Feb. 11 is 211 day, with an aim to highlight the free and confidential services offered online and over the phone.
“We often find that people have no idea what they need when a crisis hits, or when a family emergency or perhaps a medical diagnosis … [that] people aren’t familiar with the services available to support them,” said Nathan Wright, executive director of bc211.
By dialing 211 anytime, day or night, callers will be put in touch with a trained specialist on the other line who can put them in contact with services or resources in their own community that can help meet the caller’s needs.
According to Wright about half the calls received in B.C. are people looking for housing or shelter and Francesci agrees.
“Unfortunately most of the time we’re not able to direct people to long term shelter but usually we’re at least able to let them know where to go for a one night stay,” she said.
Bc211 has launched a new mobile site this year in hopes of reaching more people than an app would be able to. People can reach 211 by phone, text or online.
“Dialing 211 is a lot more accessible than searching online,” said Francesci.
Initially the nonprofit started in Atlanta, Georgia in 1997 after United Way recognized the challenge people had remembering 10-digit phone numbers and implemented 211.
The 211 service is completely funded through United Way, but Wright hopes government funding is within the near future.
“[Right now] we’re just trying to ensure the government is aware of the service that we provide British Columbia,” said Wright.
For more information on 211 and the services provided visit bc211.ca or dial 211