It’s 211 Day: Let the Bells Ring Out and the Banners Fly!!

February 11th is 211 Day. 211 service in BC  launched in 2010, and as we move into our sixth year, 211 Day gives us an opportunity blow out a few candles and to reflect on where we came from, and where we are heading.

strengthening communities logo

But first…

What is 211?

211 is an easy to remember phone number, like 911. Dialing 211 provides a single point of access to community resources. And like 911, 211 is answered live, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In BC, 211 service covers the southwestern portion of the province, from Sechelt to Hope, and from Whistler to White Rock. Callers can receive information about, and referral to, services such as food banks, mental health support, shelter and housing, legal aid, and addictions treatment.

Call or text 211211 is answered by trained specialists who are able to assess needs and provide referrals to appropriate services and resources within the community. The goal of 211 is to connect people to the services that they need in order to live fuller, healthier lives, and to assist service providers trying to locate community resources for their clients.

Beginnings of 211

211 began as a movement in the United States. The United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta first introduced a 211 service in 1997 as a way to get information out to the community.  By October 2011, the service was available in all 50 states.

In Canada, the first 211 service opened in Toronto in 2002. 211s have launched in dozens of municipalities and regions across the country. 211 service is available throughout Ontario; Nova Scotia has a province-wide 211 service, and Saskatchewan has a province-wide online service.

About bc211: 60-Plus Years

bc211 first opened its doors in 1953 under the name Community Information Service and was one of the first referral organizations in the Lower Mainland. With the support and vision of the United Way of Lower Mainland, we began provisioning 211 service in 2010, and officially became known as bc211. While our name may have changed over the years, at the core we’ve maintained a firm commitment to providing the highest quality of information and referral services.

bc211 services are free of charge and available in 180 different languages and dialects. We serve the Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley, Squamish-Lillooet, and Sunshine Coast Regional Districts.

bc211 service is available online through The Red Book Online, a searchable directory of community, social, and government services. In 2015 we launched our mobile text service–residents of the Lower Mainland can now access 211 service simply by texting 211 from their mobile devices.

bc211 Timeline

In our last fiscal year (2014-15), we took over 54,000 calls, the highest number of calls received in a single year since the launch of 211 services in BC. In this same year, visits to The Red Book Online tripled over the previous year. All this speaks to the need for information on community services, and the value of a service such as 211 that can direct people to the resources they require.

Types of ReferralsThe Power of Data

Equally important is what these calls reveal about the challenges a community faces. We provide a confidential service; we don’t keep identifiable personal information that callers might share with us. We do however track aggregate caller data such as the communities we receive calls from, general demographic information such as age and gender, and reasons for which people call.

Over the past year, we’ve shared some of this aggregate call data with stakeholders from local municipalities, providing them with value-added analysis of this data. This information can provide insight on what services are being sought in our communities, and what a community’s unmet needs might be. This in turn can inform a community in its funding and programming decisions.

Connecting People to the Help That They Need

Dialing 211 provides individuals and families in need with a shortcut through a maze of health and social service agencies. By simply dialing or texting 211, those in need of assistance are referred to appropriate agencies and resources, enabling them to lead fuller and healthier lives by becoming more engaged with their community.

211 service would not happen without the generous support of our primary funders, the United Way of Lower Mainland. We are thankful for their vision and commitment to improve access to social and health-related support services.

Thanks to UWLM