It’s 211 Day: Help starts here

Ontario 211, Help Starts Here

More than ever, people across Canada need support, but it’s not always easy to know where to turn. Most of us are familiar with 9-1-1, a national phone line that connects people with emergency services. Fewer people are as familiar with the number that can connect them to non-emergency support: 2-1-1.

211 is a free, confidential help line available 24/7 from coast to coast to coast that connects people to government and social services close to home. When a person dials 2-1-1, they are connected with a Navigator who is trained to listen and understand the full picture of the caller’s unique situation and find supports and programs available to help. On average, one call to 211 can replace seven phone calls a person would make trying to locate the correct service to fit their needs.

“The pandemic has created new challenges for individuals and families and exacerbated existing problems. Suddenly, many of us are facing financial, mental health and social isolation challenges like never before.”

Kelly Ziegner, President & CEO, United Way Elgin Middlesex

“Let’s face it, figuring out government programs and social services can be a maze. I can’t imagine being a new immigrant or an elderly person trying to navigate those services alone,” says Deborah Doherty, a 211 Navigator. “Our goal at 211 is to empower people. To help them take the next step and, when they can’t, we advocate for them, but we also help them to advocate for themselves.”

211 Navigators are highly trained and know how to ask the right question to the get the full picture of someone’s situation, often helping connect them to services they didn’t know were available.

“That’s the real value of 211 I wish everyone knew. We are trained to look beyond the initial ask,” says Maryse Leger, another 211 Navigator. “A senior called because she needed help with medical transportation. But she was concerned about paying for it down to the dollar, which told me there’s more going on. As we talked, I learned that she was forced out of her home because of mould. Her new place is more expensive, and she’s having a hard time paying her bills.

She needs financial assistance, help with expenses, food, and clothing. Today, her priority is medical transportation, but tomorrow she has to figure everything else out. We ended the call with her saying she would call back to get information about the other resources she needs, and she did.”

The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the value of service navigation as more Canadians are seeking support. While calls to 211 have increased, so have unnecessary but desperate calls to 911 looking for help.

Chief Bryan Larkin, President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, says he and his members know first-hand the importance of ensuring more people know about 211 as a front door to support.

“Our frontline officers respond to calls for service from the community every day, not related to crime. The stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic, an inability to feed yourself or your family, those are real emergencies for people, and when they don’t know where to turn, they often go to the number they know best. But, we’re hoping increased access to 211, and a better understanding of the service, will divert more of those calls to the helpline that can connect people to the support they need” says Larkin.

While the national expansion of the 211 helpline was made possible by funding from the federal government’s COVID-19 response, the service’s value goes beyond the pandemic. Whether somebody has lost a job and needs employment support, a senior is looking for programs in their community, or a parent needs help finding programs for a child with unique needs, 211 is the number to call.

“The pandemic has created new challenges for individuals and families and exacerbated existing problems,” says Kelly Ziegner, President & CEO, United Way Elgin Middlesex. “Suddenly, many of us are facing financial, mental health and social isolation challenges like never before.”

“When you need help but you’re not sure where to start, start with 2-1-1. It’s the best way to get quickly connected to programs and services close to home.”

As Canada continues to battle COVID-19 and services and programs change, 211 is consistently updated with the latest information. To find local supports quickly and easily you can also visit

211 is accessible 24/7 and available in over 150 languages. When you need help with life’s challenges, make the right call, dial 2-1-1 today or visit

Topics : ,