TORONTO, Feb. 21, 2012 /CNW/ - It's official. Ontario 211, the phone
line that has helped well over 4 million callers find help in the
social and human services sectors since it launched a decade ago, is
now province-wide. And Ontario is the first province in Canada to be
able to make that claim.
Now every resident of Ontario can pick up the phone, dial the
easy-to-remember 2-1-1 number, and with the help of the real live
person who answers, find their way to the services and programs that
specifically meet their needs. In 2011, Ontario 211 received nearly
575,000 calls most often related to health issues, income and financial
assistance, housing, food and meals, and legal and public safety.
Visits to its website, 211ontario.ca, increased 40 per cent. And the
service won the Highest Customer Satisfaction Award from SQM, which
benchmarks more than 450 call centres in North America.
"Ontario 211's expansion across the province will give all Ontarians
instant telephone access to local social services information. Whether
it is a family in crisis, a young person just starting out, a new
Canadian family or a parent searching for local children's services,
the 211 service will make it easier and quicker to find the right
services and supports," said Bas Balkissoon, Parliamentary Assistant to
Minister of Community and Social Services John Milloy.
Supported by the Province of Ontario, individual municipalities, United
Ways, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and Citizenship and Immigration
Canada, Ontario 211 Services Corporation is a non-profit designed to
create the greatest impact with the dollars it receives.
"We're about efficiency, making sure every dollar from every source goes
its furthest, serving Ontarians in the most effective way," says Bill
Morris, Executive Director. "The use of cutting edge technology helps
to achieve this. In addition, service record data and referral data
gleaned from such technologies is helping to map needs and gaps in
human services across the province."
When a caller dials 211, an Information and Referral Specialist listens
to the person's plight and probes further until he or she fully
understands the situation. Then, applying years of social services
experience and specialized information and referral training, the I&R
Specialist navigates through 211's vast database and provides contact
and background information of the services and programs most likely to
help the caller.
For Sandra, calling 211 changed her life. At 53, Sandra had endured
years of struggle. A long-time sufferer of fibromyalgia, and the single
mother of an autistic boy who in 2009, had been molested by a trusted,
family friend, she knew that guilt and grief were consuming her - and
that chronic pain and financial hardship were gnawing away at what was
leftover. And so, like many people besieged by difficulties, she tried
to reach out. She made countless calls, she searched the Internet, she
asked friends and strangers for advice, but misinformation, lack of
information or too much information defeated her. Instead of finding
help, one afternoon in the middle of January, she found herself unable
to get out of bed.
"I had my phone with me," she recalls. "And I remember thinking, this
will be my last call. " She dialed 2-1-1.
A real person answered. Ekaterina, a 23-year-old Information and Referral
Specialist, is fluent in English, French and Russian. She spends her
days at the call-centre, navigating her way through their vast
database, talking to folks from all walks of life, seeking all manner
of help. The nature of requests varies daily and often changes with the
time of the month or the time of year. Tax-time, Christmas holidays,
the dreary months of winter, and so on each create a unique set of
challenges. And while some callers are simply looking for a number,
others are looking for a way out of their despair.
Ekaterina knew she had to get as much information as possible from
Sandra in order to assist her properly. She asked questions, listened
intently and responded compassionately. An hour-long conversation
later, and Ekaterina was able to provide contact information for two
agencies tailored to Sandra and her son's needs.
"By encouraging people to let it all out, it helps them relieve some
stress and gives me a better idea of what we were dealing with,"
Ekaterina explains. "Getting them to share their story helps them and
it helps me."
For Sandra, the sourcing of appropriate numbers was in itself a great
relief, but it was the human connection that had such an impact.
"She really listened to what I had to say, what I needed, how I felt.
She told me she knew of others who had similar problems. Most
importantly, she told me to be strong, that I was on the right path,
that I could get through this."
Today, Sandra is in the process of working with Child Advocacy and CAMH,
the agencies the 211 I&R Specialist recommended. Although she and her
son haven't yet become fully immersed in their programs, just knowing
things are in place fills her with optimism. Once an established singer
and songwriter, Sandra's illness, her son's special needs, and the
terrible thing that happened to him, have taken a toll on her career.
But no longer her dreams. She is currently working from home and
rediscovering her music.
Asked if she would recommend 211, she quickly answers yes.
211 helps people find the right community and social services and 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.
SOURCE Ontario 211 Services Corporation
For further information:
Media Contact Information:
Communications and Marketing Coordinator
Ontario 211 Services Corporation
Ph: 416-777-0211, ext. 225