Half a million Ontarians found help in 2009 by calling 211

211, the phone line to find help in the social and human service sectors, connected 494,586 Ontarians to basic human services help in 2009. By dialing 2-1-1, people found information and were referred to thousands of organizations and programs to help with their most pressing challenges.

“People call 211 and discover the depth of help available and how to qualify for it,” said Bill Morris, Executive Director, of Ontario 211 Services Corporation. “Probing their situation we can give them options. Moreover, 92% of callers follow up on the referral they are given.”

The top ten reasons for calling 211 were with questions related to health issues; income and financial assistance; community services; housing help; food and meals; legal and public safety; municipal government services; mental health and addiction services; consumer and commercial questions; and, federal government services. The top ten requests represent 73 per cent of the reasons people called 211.

For example in 2009, a man called 211 from the hospital emergency room. He had no food at home and wouldn’t be able to walk to the food bank with crutches. The 211 Information and Referral Specialist called an outreach van to explain the situation. The worker was very understanding and agreed to deliver the man some food when he discharged hours later. The worker assured the 211 Specialist that he would not finish his shift until he had delivered the food.

“211’s top calls reveal that in 2009 Ontarians really needed basic human service help. Health issues, food, shelter, employment help, housing support, mental health and financial help were what most people asked for at first,” said Bill Morris, Executive Director. “Our specialists help callers feel empowered by being a helpful and knowledgeable expert who understands their situation is complicated and that they have multiple and complicated needs.”

A woman who had been laid off two years ago called. She was worried about eviction, too embarrassed to tell anyone she couldn’t afford food and after only occasional small contracts and part-time work since, her savings were gone. The 211 Specialist explained how to apply for financial assistance. She was also told about a local housing help centre to assist in the search for more affordable housing and about several food banks and community services to help with counselling and programs designed for experienced workers and women. The caller was grateful for the specialist for directing her to so many services and felt much better about her situation.

2-1-1 is an easy to remember three-digit phone number providing free, confidential access to information about the social, community, health and government services in Ontario. 211 is available 24/7, 365 days a year. 211 can provide information in over 150 languages. The website www.211ontario.ca is available to everyone with Internet access and includes more than 56,000 programs and service.

Currently 55 per cent of Ontario’s population can call 2-1-1 for information. These areas are Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Central East Region, Toronto, Halton, Peel, Niagara, Windsor-Essex and Ottawa. In late 2010, 211’s phone service will expand to reach over 80 per cent of Ontario’s population.

The Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada and the United Way of Canada-Centraide, United Ways of Ontario and several municipalities support 211 in Ontario.