Wednesday, 20 June 2018 14:30

211 Saskatchewan expands to help connect people to services

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Swift Current United Way Executive Director Stacey Schwartz speaks at the launch of the 211 service expansion in Swift Current, June 2018. Swift Current United Way Executive Director Stacey Schwartz speaks at the launch of the 211 service expansion in Swift Current, June 2018. Photo by Matthew Liebenberg

The expansion of the 211 Saskatchewan service will now make it even easier for individuals and families to access a variety of community and social services.

The 211 Saskatchewan service is a joint initiative of the United Way of Saskatoon and Area and the United Way Regina. It is a free and confidential information and referral system with a database of over 5,000 community, health and government programs and services across the province.
The service has been available as a database website since the fall of 2013, but as a result of this expansion it is now possible for Saskatchewan residents to call or text 2-1-1 or to go online to chat with trained professionals to find and navigate services.
This expansion makes Saskatchewan the third province in the country after Ontario and Nova Scotia to provide a 211 service that covers the entire province.
United Way of Saskatoon and Area CEO Shaun Dyer and United Way Regina CEO Robyn Edwards-Bentz announced the expansion of the service in Swift Current, June 18. The event in Swift Current was part of a 211 Saskatchewan roadshow between June 13 and 20 to launch the 211 service expansion in different communities.
“It's all about removing barriers,” Dyer said about the expansion. “Every tool you can place in the hands of someone enable them to access the service and support that they're looking for, or just to find a place to connect in the community. That's an important thing. So whether it’s phone, whether it’s the text, whether it’s the chat, it’s all about removing barriers.”
The complexity of finding information about services can be a significant barrier for individuals and families. They might be looking for information about basic needs such as food, shelter and employment, or they might be trying to find information about childcare or support for an aging parent.
“When you’re confused, when you’re in stress and when you’re in a crisis point, when you do not know where you’re going or where the help you need is, you may not even know that help is available,” he said. “With a simple number like 211 you text, enter on your phone, hit text and say this is what I need, can you help me? I’ve used the service myself. They respond within a minute and so we’re cutting out that confusion, we’re cutting out that uncertainty about.”
According to  Edwards-Bentz the United Way has been hearing for many years from service providers that their clients had difficulties to find the services they need when they need it the most.
“The goal was always to get to be a full-service 211 site, but funding of course allowed us only to start with the database first,” she said. “For many people in the community just searching the database isn’t the right option for them. To call and talk to someone specifically and share what they’re looking for and get that help, that phone was always part of the equation for us.”
Dyer noted that the 211 service is consistent with the United Way's vision to assist people to gain access to supports that will help them thrive and move ahead in their life.
“We’re going to use the data that we derive from it to help us shape our community investment, help communicate with government and other service agencies that are providing the services to give them some really valuable intel on how best to sharpen those services and supports,” he said. “I think it’s going to do lot of things that are quite positive for our province.”
In 2017 the 211 Saskatchewan website was accessed by 110,000 people. There were 13,358 online searches for financial assistance and income support services, 8,647 searches for housing and shelter supports and 7,687 searches for mental health services.
The findings of a recent survey indicate that 86 per cent of respondents found the 211 website useful, 64 per cent found the information they were looking for, and 48 per cent learned about a new service they did not know about.
The 211 service can be a useful asset to strengthen the human services sector in the province through the collection of data about gaps in services.
“If we have repeated calls for a particular service where there isn’t any, that’s going to be the value of the information,” Edwards-Bentz said. “So we can begin to think about how should we invest differently if this is a high-need service and you have to travel an hour, two hours to get it. Maybe we need to rethink the positioning or where we have services across the province. I think that’s the real value that we are seeing with 211.”
The 211 service can also be used by first responders, social workers, police and other service providers to find accurate information for people they are assisting.
The expansion of the 211 service is a result of a financial donation of $150,000 from CanPacific Potash and a contribution of $600,000 over the next three years from the Community Initiatives Fund.
“United Way has believed in this project for many years and has worked this into our budget funding for the long term,” Dyer said. “What we have with our expansion partners is that signal from the broader community, the business community, the granting community to say actually we share your vision for this long term. So we think that the three-year window is going to be plenty of time to develop and to demonstrate that this is a robust, important, sustainable service. We’re really hopeful and optimistic that we will see this as a core part of our business going forward.”
Swift Current United Way Executive Director Stacey Schwartz thinks the expansion of the 211 service will be a benefit for southwest Saskatchewan, where residents in rural areas might have challenges to access certain resources. The 211 service can help them to bridge that gap to find out what services are available in their area and the nearest location of resources. It will also assist various organizations to gain a better understanding of the need for services in the area.
“So 211 just helps to meet that gap and where we always have that data at our fingertips and have a true perspective of what is needed in the area,” she said.
She feels the human service sector will play an important role to make people aware of the 211 service when they are meeting with their clients and suggesting this resource. She considers it necessary to get municipalities, both urban and rural, involved to also make it available in their communities.
“211 Saskatchewan has given us as a community and a province the opportunity to find out first hand from those requesting the services what their greatest needs are, not just provincially, but the opportunity to gain insight based on regions and specific communities,” she said. “So 211 means helping to meet the needs of our rural communities and connecting them to their closest resources.”
The 211 Saskatchewan service is available 24 hours a day for seven days a week througout the year in over 100 languages. Call or text 2-1-1 or visit

Read 532 times Last modified on Wednesday, 20 June 2018 16:54

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