Impact Stories

211 British Columbia – Connecting people to resources for help, where and when they need it.  

There are times in life when there are more questions than answers. Being in a place of uncertainty, especially during a stressful situation, can lead to feelings of helplessness, overwhelm, frustration, even guilt and shame. But what if British Columbians who were experiencing great uncertainty during times of stress had support in navigating their way to solutions? 

That’s exactly what 211 British Columbia does for those seeking answers for themselves or for someone else. 

Raeanne lives in Kamloops, and recently found herself struggling to support someone she cared about who lived several hours away. Her loved one was in a precarious and complex situation, needing support and answers she couldn’t provide, but it was clear something needed to be done. While Raeanne wasn’t sure what kind of help would be accepted, she also realized that she didn’t know where to turn, or who might be able to provide a sense of direction. 

Help, right then and there. 

That’s when Raeanne recalled that her sister-in-law had recently mentioned the work of 211 British Columbia in a conversation. She looked up online and discovered a wealth of information. Unlike 911 for emergencies or 811 for health questions, 211 is a vital 24/7 lifeline to resources in your community. Niina Niemi, Director at Helpline Services and 211 British Columbia stated, “It’s really a front door to help.” Niina explained, “We provide information and referral to a broad range of community, government, and social services to assist with basic needs like food and shelter, mental health and addictions support, legal and financial assistance, support for seniors, and so much more.” 

Raeanne decided to call 211, thinking it might be a good place to start. She found accessing a real, live person to be simple and fast, and after a helpful conversation with a 211 navigator, Raeanne explained, “It was like talking to a resourceful, encouraging, kind, and empathetic counsellor. She really took the time to listen. It felt like she really 

cared.” The navigator listened to Raeanne’s concerns, asked meaningful and helpful questions, and then went through the resources available in the city where her loved one lived. “The navigator wasn’t just a voice on the other end of the phone; she was someone who cared about the outcome and was committed to making a difference,” Raeanne continued. 

Following the call, Raeanne explained that she also received an email containing all the information they had talked about, so she was able to share it with her husband. She commented, “We found out what was available, and were able to have a conversation with the person we were concerned about, letting them know we’d looked into things and if there was help needed applying or looking into options, we would be there.” 

These days when it seems not everyone has the time or capacity to help find answers, the navigators at 211 really are there for those who call. Niina Niemi, Director of Helpline Services and 211 British Columbia, talked about the support her team provides callers and how meaningful their work is. “Being a help line, the value comes from the fact that you are available when somebody needs help, right then and there. In addition to navigators having the information and resources at their fingertips, offering emotional support, compassion, and simply being there for someone is invaluable. Our goal is to provide a roadmap, to let them know what services are available in their community, and what the next steps are to navigate the stressful situations they face.” 

Raeanne was so grateful to have answers to her questions. Although she didn’t know if the information would be used, at least she had it. She said, “We were feeling so much better that we at least looked into things.” 

It’s all about awareness. Raeanne went on, “What’s crazy is there are all these resources, and all these needs, but they need to be connected, people need to know that 211 is there to help.” 

Previously, Raeanne worked on a switchboard at her local hospital. She was often surprised by the nature of the callers’ requests. People would ask questions like, “Where can I get some crutches?”, “Where can I get food if I don’t have money?”, “How do I contact the police?” or calls from seniors who were lonely and wanted someone to talk to and needed to feel connected. So, when Raeanne was faced with questions she did not have answers to, she knew where not to call (i.e. the hospital), but when wondering about social services, especially in a different city, she did not know where to look. Should she call City Hall? A government agency? A social worker or advocacy firm? Who could she contact that would not just pass her off to the next person who might have an answer—or not. It felt like a daunting task. She wishes she had known about 211 British Columbia then. 

211 is free, confidential, and available 24/7 in 240+ languages 

211 British Columbia is a lifeline, helping to identify needs and provide resources, all in one place. Over the past year, over 47,000 people have contacted 211— about half of them calling about housing and homelessness. In the Thompson Nicola Cariboo, calls about income and financial assistance surpassed housing and homelessness as the number one identified need; online searches on had counselling being one of the top icon searches across the whole province. 

Through the wealth of data collected through 211 British Columbia, part of United Way BC Helpline Services, we can see where gaps exist in our communities and move to fill in those gaps providing support where it is actually needed. 

For people like Raeanne, having someone to talk to who can provide clarity and direction, answer tough questions, and help navigate a complicated system of resources can be the catalyst for solutions that lead to safety and change. It can also be a simple reminder that you are not alone. 

211 British Columbia. Help starts here. 

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