February 11, 2021
An Inaugural Pan Canadian 211 Day
This year, for the first time, anyone living anywhere in Canada can pick up the phone and dial 2-1-1 to reach a Navigator for information on community, government and social services in or near their community. The service is free, confidential, 24/7 in most of Canada, and available in more than 150 languages.
It’s no coincidence that this major initiative was launched amidst the challenges Canadians are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. On October 15, 2020 the Government of Canada, in partnership with United Way Centraide Canada, announced funding to activate the nationwide expansion of 211. The government also announced funding to support existing 211 services experiencing surging demand.
The needs people expressed in calls with 211 revealed some of the acute symptoms of the COVID-19 lockdown measures on the lives of Canadians. In April of 2020, 211 received more than nine times as many requests for food-related needs, and more than three times as many requests related to financial assistance relative to baseline call volumes in January and February of 2020.
As Canadians grappled with the effects of COVID-19 on their lives, the national 211 network experienced a 30 per cent increase in total call volume over the previous year (March – December) and as the pandemic wore on, the needs expressed by callers shifted. In the second half of 2020, calls related to housing support and mental health and addictions rose sharply. By December, the number of requests related to housing had risen by one third relative to December 2019 call volumes, and requests for information and referrals for mental health and addiction services had doubled. Throughout the pandemic, 211 has and will continue to provide Canadians with help navigating the support services available during this challenging time.
“…We are proud to support programs and services, like the 211 telephone line and online directory. With the ongoing pandemic, the 211 service is more important than ever, helping get information about community services to the Canadians who need it.” Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Ahmed Hussen.
For decades, United Way Centraide Canada has championed the creation and expansion of 2‑1‑1 services. Knowing where to turn when you are faced with challenges in your life is not often simple. 211 helps people to navigate the system and find support quickly and easily, which takes the strain off agencies and other services like 911 who would otherwise be handling these calls.
With a national 211 system and growing awareness of the service, we can also begin to analyze data about the types of services people are looking for by region, or even neighbourhood, which will help us, community service agencies, government, and others to better serve the specific needs of people in those communities and across the country.
Prior to the expansion, 211 was only available in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and most of Quebec. The first 211 was opened in 2002 in Toronto and expanded steadily to other provinces through funding support from local United Way Centraides and provincial and municipal governments.