Who you gonna call?


There are certain numbers that stick in your mind over the years.  For children of the 80s, 867-5309 comes to mind.  For anyone who lived in Edmonton over the past twenty years or so, you might also remember 426-5050.  (Bonus points to anyone who can identify those numbers in the comment section!).

There’s another number that I’d like to suggest you all should get to know as well.  Thankfully, it’s a simple one… 2-1-1.  What is 211?  Well, it’s a three-digit number that can be called to access information regarding a broad range of human services including health, community and government programs. Better yet, it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The reality is that there are a great number of quality programs and services available to people in our community.  The challenge, however, is often getting people connected to the help that they need.  To put it simply, if you don’t know where to call, call 211.

The benefits of 211 are many.  First and foremost, the number is answered by a real live human being!  The 211 information specialists have all undergone extensive training in not only information and referral but also in crisis intervention.  They are trained to not simply just give out referrals, but to dig further into the reasons for the referral to ensure that the needs of the caller are being fully met.  Not a phone person?  That’s okay; the service can also be accessed online at www.informedmonton.com

211 is also an extremely useful tool when it comes to social planning.  211 data can be compiled to show what issues are the most prominent in our community and it also allows us to look at the match of where services are located compared to where people are calling from.  In addition, 211 compiles a quarterly Unmet Needs report that highlights the types of calls that they are receiving in which there are limited or no services available.  This information can be used for future planning by United Way and other funders and community groups.

211 has been up and running in Edmonton since 2004.  Over the past few years, the service has been extended to serve the residents of Strathcona County, the City of Leduc, Leduc County and Parkland County.  It's amazing the difference an easy-to-remember phone number can make.  Prior to launching 211, The Support Network operated the Community Service Referral Line.  In the years before becoming 211, they were receiving around 12,000 calls each year. Last year, nearly 50,000 people accessed support by calling 211! On top of that, over 160,000 unique visitors accessed information through the InformEdmonton website.

Along with the work that has been done to bring 211 to the Alberta Capital Region, a 211 Alberta Steering Committee has been formed to work on bringing the 211 service to all Albertans.  The vision for a province-wide service is to engage local communities to provide their community information into a single database so that wherever a person calls from, a 211 information specialist will be able to connect to them resources in their local community.

So, whether you’re a family member concerned about how to support an aging parent or someone looking to volunteer in their community, 211 is the place to call!

Tim Osborne is the Director of Community Building and Investment for United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.  He is also the Chair of the 211 Alberta Steering Committee.