More than ever, people across Calgary and the surrounding area need support, but it’s not always easy to know where to turn. Most of us are familiar with 9-1-1, a national phone line that connects people with emergency services. Fewer people are as familiar with the number that can connect them to non-emergency support: 2-1-1.

211 is a free, confidential helpline that connects people to government and social services via phone, text, or online chat. When a person contacts 211, they are connected with a Navigator who is trained to listen and understand the full picture of the client’s unique situation and find supports and programs available to help. On average, one contact to 211 can replace seven phone calls a person would make trying to locate the correct service to fit their needs.

“Let’s face it, figuring out government programs and social services can be a maze.”

– 211 Navigator

211 Navigators can cut through confusing directories and websites to quickly help solve a client’s main issue.

“Let’s face it, figuring out government programs and social services can be a maze. I can’t imagine being a new immigrant or an elderly person trying to navigate those services alone,” says Deborah Doherty, a 211 Navigator. “Our goal at 211 is to empower people. To help them take the next step and, when they can’t, we advocate for them, but we also help them to advocate for themselves.”

211 Navigators are highly trained and know how to ask the right question to get the full picture of someone’s situation, often helping connect them to services they didn’t know were available.

“That’s the real value of 211 I wish everyone knew. We are trained to look beyond the initial ask,” says Maryse Leger, another 211 Navigator. “A senior called because she needed help with medical transportation. But she was concerned about paying for it down to the dollar, which told me there’s more going on. As we talked, I learned that she was forced out of her home because of mould. Her new place is more expensive, and she’s having a hard time paying her bills. She needs financial assistance, help with expenses, food, and clothing. Today, her priority is medical transportation, but tomorrow she has to figure everything else out. We ended the call with her saying she would call back to get information about the other resources she needs, and she did.”

“Last year, we saw more people reaching out to 211 for support with situations they have never before had to navigate.” – Robyn Romano, Distress Centre.

In October 2020, as part of its COVID-19 response, the federal government announced the nationwide expansion of 211. Federal funding for the expansion ensured all Canadian residents living coast to coast to coast would have access to the service by the end of 2020.

As a founding partner of 211 in Canada, United Way provides funding and support for the program nationwide. In Calgary and the surrounding area, 211 is run by Distress Centre Calgary. The service, which has been in operation since 2005, has seen a significant increase in contacts in the previous year as more Calgarians seek support due to the pandemic.

“Last year, we saw more people reaching out to 211 for support with situations they have never before had to navigate,” says Robyn Romano, director of operations at the Distress Centre. “There was a 72 per cent increase in 211 contacts from January 26, 2020-December 31, 2020, compared to the same period last year, with significant increases in the complexities of health concerns, financial need, and mental health. As information was constantly changing and evolving, our 211 Navigators were there as a dedicated go-to for providing connections to information, resources, or services and reminding people that they were not alone.”

The service’s value goes beyond the pandemic. Whether somebody has lost a job and needs employment support, a senior is looking for programs in their community, or a parent needs help finding programs for a child with unique needs, 211 is the service to contact.

“211 has been an important service in Calgary for many years—the dramatic increase in contacts from the stress of the pandemic shows us that it’s needed more than ever,” says Karen Young, president and CEO of United Way of Calgary and Area. “Calgarians are known for their community spirit, and by connecting people to the resources they need, when they need them, we are working together to support each other through tough times.”

As Calgary continues to battle COVID-19 and services and programs change, 211 is consistently updated with the latest information.

211 is accessible seven days a week and available in over 150 languages.
When you need help with life’s challenges, make the right call by dialling 2-1-1, texting INFO to 211, or by visiting and clicking “live chat.”