Northerers seeking help can now call 211, as United Way service expands

·3 min read

A new three-digit information service is available in Yukon, the N.W.T. and Nunavut, among other regions in Canada.

That means, if you have a question, call two-eleven.

The 211 National Service Provider Network helps people find services provided by all levels of government or NGOs.

The service covers almost any topic of service: mental health, addictions, legal and advocacy questions, education, questions about aid to secure food and basic goods, referrals to financial assistance, housing, immigration queries, issues for seniors' issues and more.

Callers can ask: What is there to help me?

In Canada, the service is administered by United Way Centraide Canada through partnerships with different local United Way groups and other partner NGOs. There are at least 12 call centres across Canada.

The 211 National Service Provider Network covers all levels of government and includes NGOs and charitable groups accredited by the United Way. That means a caller might discover, for instance, that a local church or community group is handing out winter coats or providing meals, in addition to information about government-run services.

New funding sees 211 service nationwide

The 211 service was previously active in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and most of Quebec.

The same service exists in parts of the U.S, where the Federal Communications Commission says 211 provides "a shortcut through what can be a bewildering maze of health and human service agency phone numbers."

In October, Canada's federal government provided $2.2 million to United Way Centraide Canada to expand the service nationwide.

United Way Centraide Canada
United Way Centraide Canada

Future uncertain past March 2021 in Yukon

While the service is new to Yukon, N.W.T. and Nunavut, it could soon end.

An email response to CBC from United Way Centraide Canada's national office says the expansion of 211 is not sustainable under current funding as "federal funding that has enabled the expansion of 211 is committed only until March 31, 2021."

The United Way's national office writes that "efforts at both the national and regional levels are being made to secure funding for the long term."

Calls increasing due to Covid-19

The United Way says inquiries have increased with COVID-19.

The service reported online searches climbed by nearly 40 per cent and calls have increased by a third since COVID-19 hit, as measured between March and August.

'Expert navigators' will answer Yukon calls from B.C.

Haley Friesen is part of a promotional campaign in Yukon.

A company working with the United Way has been reaching out to clients of the Whitehorse food bank and putting posters downtown.

"The big thing is that when folks call, they have an expert nagivator on the other end. And these people are helping them find the right services," she said.

The 211 service is confidential, toll-free and available 24 hours a day.

The United Way claims to have a roster of translators on call across Canada who can join calls on request and provide help in no fewer than 150 languages.

United Way Centraide Canada
United Way Centraide Canada

'Yukoners are already using the service"

Wendy Morrison is founder of YZED Projects in Yukon and has been leading the campaign to promote the 211 number in the territory.

She says "Yukoners are already using the service to navigate the situations related to domestic violence and mental health issues." Other examples she mentions include:

  • A parent who is worried about a child's mental health and is not familiar with local services.

  • A senior who is feeling isolated or anxious about getting the basic necessities.

  • A family struggling to put food on the table and looking to navigate what financial supports are available.

Calls from Yukon are being answered in B.C., however staff there are familiar with Yukon NGOs and government services said Morrison.

With a poster campaign and public outreach, Morrison hopes to "have all Yukoners aware of the service, that can support them through the holidays and the challenging times."

She hopes the number will become as familiar as 911 and 811, which are used for critical emergencies and healthcare inquiries. Maybe people will remember a rhyme: To reach someone, call two-one-one.