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A team effort: United Way and 211


“Life is tough and when you don’t know where to turn to solve your problem or to get a solution, the easiest thing to do is to just call 211.”

As our communities gear up for an isolating winter, it is critical that vital social services stay accessible for vulnerable community members. 

Thanks to our partnership with Community Navigation of Eastern Ontario (CNEO) and their 211 community helpline, Eastern Ontarians can call a 24-hour, 365 day-a-year support line that helps them navigate these unprecedented times in the language of their choosing.

Whether it’s finding a local food bank, looking for mental health support, or juggling financial instability, 211 connects callers with local services that meet their needs.

Responding to communities in crisis

In March, April, and May of 2020, calls to 211 were up 50 per cent compared to last year’s call volumes.  Right now, 211 is getting 25 per cent more calls when compared to the fall of 2019. John Hoyles, Executive Director of CNEO expects calls to increase even more over the winter months. 

In the early stages of the pandemic, John says CNEO didn’t have enough resources to address the spike of community needs caused by COVID-19. Now that we have entered the second wave of COVID-19, John and his team have the support they need to meet the increased demand, thanks to United Way East Ontario.

211’s queue of abandoned calls grew from 10 per cent to 30 per cent at the start of COVID-19 because of the increase in callers. With additional support from United Way, the team has been able to bring those numbers back to a manageable level. During the fall and winter, John predicts that calls will not only increase but become more desperate and complex in nature. 211 has already seen the average length of calls increase from four to six minutes, meaning the issues people are trying to sort out are more complicated. Because of this, John is also hyper-focused on supporting the wellbeing of the people answering calls. 

Working together to support people in need

“United Way East Ontario’s goal is to make sure that vulnerable people have what they need, and our job is to get those vulnerable people connected to the help that they need. So, it's a very symbiotic relationship between 211 Eastern Ontario and United Way.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the 211 team has been an integral part of United Way’s COVID-19 Community Response Table: a group of public health authorities, municipalities, frontline social service agencies, corporate partners, elected officials from all levels of government, and many others committed to supporting people through the effects of COVID-19 on our communities.

211 contributes call data to the Table’s discussions, which helps United Way understand where the needs are greatest in our communities, and how things have been made worse by the pandemic. With this knowledge, we can focus our response and investments to help the people who are struggling the most, and measure the impact of our efforts.

“211 is the place to call when you don’t know where to turn," says John. “[At the start of the pandemic] our first bulge of calls was food, and then that quickly flipped to finance and food was still there as a significant. Then, as we got into the longer lockdown, it was mental health.”

Nation-wide help is just a phone call away

On October 15, United Way Centraide Canada, in partnership with the federal government, also announced an expansion of 211 services nationwide

“211 has been available in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and most of Quebec. With this investment, 211 is now available in Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador. In Quebec, services are available in the Greater Montreal area, and in the Capitale-Nationale and Chaudière-Appalaches area, with plans to roll out online and chat service across the province in November.”

– United Way Centraide Canada

Thanks to the support of our donors and partners, 211 will be well equipped to provide increased critical support for people across Eastern Ontario and beyond in the coming months—helping people find the resources they need and feel a little less alone.

Dial 211 to connect with community, social, government and health services in your area.



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