News / Saskatoon

211 database and website coming to Saskatchewan in 2013

Saskatchewan residents seeking social service assistance may have an easier time in 2013 as the United Way in Regina and Saskatoon will be rolling out the first part of its 211 service next year.

211 is a non-emergency number people can call for information on a variety of social services like housing and access to food banks. In June of 2013, the United Way says they estimate to have information for 10,000 up-to-date services available through a new online 211 database and public-access website.

Sheri Benson, executive director with United Way Saskatoon and Area says the database is a major part of creating a 211 number for the province—something they hope to have in place by 2014, as they’re still seeking a funding commitment from the Province and through other avenues of funding.

“What we saw happening is that people we’re just calling any number,” said Benson. “We talked to the police and we talked to SaskTel—and both of them said people call there for information referral because they don’t know where else to go.”

She continued, “911 is an easy to remember number, but it’s not always the appropriate number.”

Duane McKay, commissioner of emergency management and fire safety with the Province said even though 211 is in early stages of development, he see’s its value.

“It’s a little early to tell what kind of impact 211 will have, specific to the province of Saskatchewan,” said McKay. “The concept though does have some merit in terms of what do we do with individuals who call 911 or other emergency lines that are not really emergency calls.”

He continued, “Right now, we really can’t help them because we don’t have that transfer capability into other agencies, so to be able to redirect them to an organization that can look after their non-emergency calls, certainly has potential.”

Growing province, growing needs

Joanne Grant, CEO of the Regina United Way, explained as the province continues to grow, so does the demand for social utilities.

“We talk about being in an economic boom, which is great and we see the signs of that, but there’s also a downside to an economic boom as more people are pushed down into more vulnerable situations,” said Grant.

She also explained as the province continues to grow, people who are new to Canada also need specific types of services as well.

“It really helps address the growing pains of a boom and as we grow rapidly, we need to be able to keep up with what’s happening in our province.”

A voice in time of need

Although the 211 phone number is expected for 2014, Ken Howland, volunteer chair for the Saskatchewan 211 steering committee, said the fact people will be able to talk directly to a person is important in a time of a need.

“Being able to talk to a person is key for a lot of people—who again—in crisis, just want an answer and want it quickly,” said Howland.

He explained operators answering the 211 numbers would be trained in information referral and because of it, they'll be able to get callers quick access to help.

"They would be asking the right questions and get them the right referral the first time and I think that’s huge. This is a situation where you will be answered by a person and not a voicemail and prompts.”

Annual cost for a 211 number is roughly $1 million and organizers say they’ve already spent $350,000 on research and consultations for the project, adding it will cost another $250,000 to compile, verify and get the info online.

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