Staff at the United Way announced 211.ca last week – an online database that provides detailed information for more than 1,600 programs and services in Central Alberta.
The site is designed to help connect citizens to services for issues such as domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health assistance, social services and financial services among many more.
“It really is a momentous day. Now we have access to (over 1,600 services) 24/7 and (211.ca) is completely confidential. You get lots of information on community, health and services,” said United Way Canada CEO Robert Mitchell.
“I came in almost three years ago and that’s why this is a momentous day. I’ve been working hard to bring this here. We can see such a benefit. It’s such a win-win situation. It’s a win for United Way, because we’re out in the community, and it’s a win for the community because they have access to all this information.”
211.ca also has a telephone counterpart that is currently unavailable specific to the Central Alberta area. Citizens in the Central Alberta region may still dial 211, but will be directed through call centres in Calgary and Edmonton until funding has been placed to create a specific Central Alberta call centre.
Joining Mitchell at the 211.ca launch was Mayor Tara Veer, Red Deer north MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, a number of City councilors and representatives from The Support Network in Edmonton and the Distress Centre in Calgary.
Thanks were given to the volunteers of United Way who came together with The Support Network and Distress Centre to lay the foundation of the initiative and to help create and maintain a seamless viewing of data on the web site.
“We’ve been working on the provincial steering committee for a long time, and it’s really exciting to see some of the roll outs now,” said Nancy McCalder, executive director of The Support Network.
“The other side of course is the 24/7 telephone service and that service is answered by staff who are specialists. It’s more than just an operator – it’s someone who can assess the needs of the caller.”
What McCalder meant by, “Assessing the needs of the caller” is that sometimes people may call thinking that they know the service they require. However, some categories of care can be broken down into multiple areas that require specific attention.
For example, a person seeking information on shelters may also require a place to find food, get access to government funding, mental or physical health needs, counseling and childcare assistance.
For this reason, 211.ca is designed to help guide users online to finding the most appropriate agency.
Calling 211 and speaking with someone will raise the chances of finding an appropriate program. The 211.ca representatives also ask, if callers are willing, to provide a follow-up to ensure that a person’s needs were met, and they were able to find the proper assistance.
“If you have a look at the database, you don’t get just a phone number or web site. You get details about the organization and about the programs and services and affiliations they have,” said Mitchell.
“You can see any professional services, where they’re located, if there’s any referrals needed and the times they’re open – it’s really detailed information. Hopefully, this will be helpful to health workers, social workers, teachers or anyone who wants to find information like this.”
211.ca also helps remove some pressure from City officials and emergency service operators between re-directing callers to an appropriate organization. Businesses who take part in the 211 databases are required to maintain updated information to ensure the accuracy of the program.
“This is great, we’ve put a lot of work into this and we would love to have the full service, but this is the first stage. The phone service is the next step. This is really great for the whole region, particularly rural regions I think,” said Mitchell.