Calls to 2-1-1 info line surge this year

Local queries to Canada’s 2-1-1 information hotline have soared so far in 2023 – with call volume 24-per-cent higher than this time last year, and more callers than ever with multiple needs.

Housing, health and mental health/addiction needs together account for almost half the inquiries.

Across Canada, the picture is similar, with double-digit increases year-over-year in the number of people seeking guidance to find basics such as food, housing and help with government assistance programs.

Some of the increase can be attributed to more widespread knowledge about 2-1-1, which is free and available 24/7, said Kelly Ziegner, president and CEO of United Way Elgin Middlesex.

But tough economic times and fall-out from the pandemic are also responsible for the surge.

More calls, more needs

“The past few years have amplified where our vulnerabilities lie as a community,” Ziegner said.

“When the pandemic first hit, 2-1-1 became a go-to source of information for questions like where to find emergency meals during lockdowns and how to navigate applications for income benefits. Now we’re seeing more calls, and from more people who have several needs at the same time: Where to find housing, food banks and a hot community meal. Where to plug into addiction resources for themselves or someone they love and where to find mental-health support.

“I’m encouraged that people are finding supports via 2-1-1 because that’s exactly what it’s there for. But I think it’s also a signal that systems are creaking under the weight of some really complex community issues – such as poverty and housing insecurity – and that requires some longer-term solutions from all of us.”

  • 2-1-1 acts as a front-door to non-emergency support – an information line designed to connect each person to the government and community programs and services they need..
  • 2-1-1 service is accessible 365 days a year in more than 150 languages.
  • When you dial 2-1-1, or connect online, you are connected to a trained professional who will  listen to you and help you find the right information and supports near you.  The service is free and confidential.
  • Phone or text 2-1-1 or chat online at

2-1-1 is co-founded and co-funded by United Way Centraide Canada and its member agencies across Canada, including United Way Elgin Middlesex.

February 11 (or 2/11 on the calendar) has been designated 2-1-1 Day across the country to remind Canadians help is just three numbers or a couple of clicks away.

Locally, about 3,500 people sought and received guidance from 2-1-1 in 2022.

And in January this year alone, about 360 people in London and in Elgin and Middlesex counties contacted 2-1-1 for information. About one in four of them sought help with more than one need.

By contrast, about 290 local people contacted 2-1-1 in January 2022. About one in 10 of them had more than one need.

The numbers equate to a 24-per-cent increase in calls and a 35-per-cent increase in callers’ needs.

While it’s too early to say it’s a trend, Ziegner noted the numbers in the first month of this year are comparable to those in November and December, when inquiries are usually at peak volume.

“Inflation, housing cost and availability, unemployment and ill health are all taking their toll on people in this region,” Ziegner said. “Three years ago, housing didn’t even crack the top-five list of calls locally, and now it’s one of the most common inquiries.”

National calls also surge

On average, about 260,000 Canadians make contact with 2-1-1 each year and that number soared to six million calls, texts and chats in the first 16 months of the pandemic, said United Way Centraide Canada (UWCC).

In the first six months of 2022, callers looking for counselling services increased by 34 per cent nationally. compared with the same period in 2021.

Calls for food and housing concerns each increased by 19 per cent during that same time period..

Needs for counselling services increased by 34 per cent during the same time period.

This year, the current economic downturn, higher energy and grocery costs have combined with the pandemic to put many people in the position of needing support for the first time in their lives, noted UWCC.

The 2-1-1 data collected locally and nationally also serves to help decision-makers figure out where more provincial and municipal social supports are needed now and help forecast future need.

211 navigator helping people people in the community

Phone or text 2-1-1 or chat online at

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