A helpline service that started in the Lower Mainland in 2010 has been rolled out to the rest of the province, providing all B.C. residents with an opportunity to go online and get connected to the help they need, whether it be for housing, financial assistance, parenting resources, seniors services, employment assistance, counselling, and more.
The service—bc211—can be accessed all across the province at bc211.ca, with resources available online. There is also a web chat option, which is available from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. PST seven days a week.
Nathan Wright, executive director of bc211, was in Ashcroft on October 24 to speak with interested community members about the service. Representatives from the Ashcroft HUB, Boston Flats Relief Committee, the Ashcroft fire department, Ashcroft council, Winding Rivers Arts & Performance Society, Interior Health, Better at Home, and The Equality Project were there, and listened as Wright explained that bc211 exists for one reason: “It’s to help people find the information they need.”
The service is run in partnership with the United Way, and is for anyone who needs assistance but doesn’t know where to turn. When the service operated in the Lower Mainland only, there were 5,000 services that could be accessed; the province-wide expansion in June 2017 means that people can now be put in touch with any one of 13,000 services in B.C.
“We can help people find the most important services for whatever point they are at in their life,” said Wright. “We connect people free of charge with government, social, and community services. We try to be as low-barrier as possible, and have a staff of 45 people, up-to-date technology, and multiple communication channels.”
He said that bc211 is better than Google. “We make sure information is correct and that this is the right service for you. We assess a person’s needs and connect them with the appropriate services. Our staff are trained as victim service workers, and will advocate for vulnerable clients when needed, to ensure they get what they need.”
Wright also noted that they verify the accuracy of all records and services on a regular basis, to ensure that information being given out is up-to-date. Staff will help people locate resources that are in their area wherever possible.
The name of the organization comes from the fact that they hope to have the phone number 2-1-1 available across Canada for anyone who needs access to non-emergency services not covered by 9-1-1. The 2-1-1 phone number is already on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands and in the Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley, Squamish-Lillooet, and Sunshine Coast Regional Districts.
The bc211 phone service is free, confidential, multilingual, and available 24/7, and Wright said that they hope to secure funding to expand the 2-1-1 service to the rest of the province, hopefully within a year.
“That’s our goal. We’re working with the United Way and other potential partners.”
The website is mobile-friendly, allowing users to access it from their phones. However, there is no bc211 app; as Wright explained, that would be placing a potential barrier in front of people who would need to go to the app store and download it.
The website contains quick links for the most widely-asked-for topics, each of which then has multiple sub-topics. Users can set search commands to search by organization, and can print and download results.
There are also interactive maps showing the locations of services and organizations.
“Users can be anonymous of they want,” said Wright. “And the data we get can be analyzed by municipalities and regions to inform social planning, show trends, and point to emerging needs. We can pinpoint where unmet needs are most prevalent and refer this back to municipalities.”
The service is for everyone: children, adults, and seniors. “If it’s not a 9-1-1 or an 8-1-1 [HealthLink] call, it can be a 2-1-1 call,” said Wright, who added that both those numbers will refer people to 2-1-1 or bc211 if appropriate.
“We play an information and referral role during a crisis. And we’re happy to be working with the United Way. Their goal is the same as ours: happy, healthy communities.”