A solution is only 3 numbers away


What do you do if you are concerned about how much alcohol you drink each night, and your inability to stop? Who do you call if you have an eviction notice tacked to your door? What if you just lost your job and are unsure of how you’re going to pay the bills that are piling up?

Take Jay, as a hypothetical example. Against the better advice of his family and school counselors he didn’t finish high school because he wanted to start providing for his girl friend and their new son. Since the birth of his son, he’s had a few casual jobs on construction sites, and some service jobs here and there. In general Jay has worked very hard to keep food on the table. But today, after a series of bad decisions and a good measure of bad luck, he’s a single parent of a toddler with no job, no money and an empty fridge. So what does he do?

Many people would be completely clueless of where to access help. However as of May 6, a new service called “211” was introduced to alleviate some of the challenges to finding a necessary social service or program. In their own words “211 can offer you suggestions for where to find help, explain the processes for successfully getting what you need, and connect you to an agency, if you ask us to.” (Source)

But, is it really that simple?

Not exactly. Having the right phone numbers and knowing where you can go to get the right services doesn’t mean you will use them.

Bad information often gets around faster than good information. One misunderstanding or bad experience gets passed around and distorted further with each retelling. You remember the game of telephone when you were younger? It’s the same thing. This is often one of the barriers to people accessing services.

Jay always tries to make the right decisions; but everywhere he turns, he finds people who judge him, or tell him how he’s screwing up his life and the life of his child. Therefore Jay may not want to access any social service programs because he thinks we’ll alert Family and Children’s services that he doesn’t have any food for his son. He’s had dealings with them in the past, and knows friends who have had their children taken away from them. Though he’s a little shady on the details, one thing he knows for certain is that he doesn’t want his son taken away from him. His little one seems to be the only good thing going for him right now.

On the other hand, maybe he’s heard from a friend of a friend that any help he gets from us will be deducted from any government assistance he receives – so what’s the point anyways? Instead he’ll struggle, not eat for a few days and try to send his son to stay with Grandma and Grandpa for a few days until he can get a pay cheque again.

But Jay is wrong and he doesn’t need to suffer because of these things. We won’t call Family and Children’s Services, unless we see or hear something that makes it obvious that his child is being mistreated. Also, social services will not deduct the value of a food hamper from someone’s social assistance cheques. Instead caseworkers are often making direct referrals to our program because their clients are struggling to meet their basic needs with the money they are given each month.

Have you ever been in Jay’s shoes? For a lot of people walking through our door is one of the hardest things they will ever have to do. Calling us can be just as hard. The 211 blog has a nice summary of some of the reasons why asking for help is hard.  For people like Jay, the fact that they are responsible for a child is the spur they need to move mountains to get to the help required. If he was single, maybe he would just shut down, overwhelmed by the seeming complexity of the government and social service bureaucracies towering in front of him.

But with the help of the trained professionals at 211, they’ll walk him through the process to finding the answers and services he needs. They know that the best way to connect someone to a service is to walk with them either part, or all of the way.

211 services are free for anyone to utilize, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and in many different languages. Their trained professionals make referrals based on 56 000 agencies, programs and services that are complied in their database. A significant portion of what in their database is also likely available on an agencies website; but this information is no good if you don’t know about the program, and is often out of date.  This is not the case for 211; their plan is to update their database at least once a year, if not more frequently.

To date the top five most requested topics from 211 surround issues of health, income and financial assistance, housing options, community services, and legal or public safety (Source). Essentially many people are unsure where to find services, or answers to questions around income, shelter, and security – three important factors connected to individuals’ social determinants of health.

So Jay can call 211, explain his situation and start working towards overcoming the many obstacles in his path. He can get food from an organization like us; start the process to get social assistance; and maybe get the support he needs to get the last few credits towards a high school diploma. After that maybe he’ll get pointed in the right direction to find a scholarship or grant to go on to learn a skilled trade. The possibilities are endless for him to create a better future for his child and himself now that he has a resource to direct him where he needs to go.

Many people access our program for food each day, but also face a variety of needs that we’re not always familiar with. Now we have a tool to utilize and share with others to help them find more effective solution to, and specific details about programs that will solve many of the complex situations that they face each and every day. Besides just a food hamper we can give them a new direction and starting point to help them overcome the crisis that has led them to our door.

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One Response to “A solution is only 3 numbers away”

  1. Kelly Says:

    We appreciate the time you took to highlight the services of 211 in your region. If your readers want to find out more, they can follow us on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/211ontario on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/211ontario or visit our website at http://www.211ontario.ca (where they can search for programs and services).

    Thank you!

    Kelly Bergeron
    Online Initiatives Manager
    Ontario 211

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