Looking for information on social, health and government services?

211 is the number to get help, all day, every day

Norm Lamoureux is convinced the problem with the area 211 system isn’t the technology that allows someone to call those three digits on a telephone to connect for information on social, health and government services in the area.

The problem is a lack of awareness of the system itself.

Haven’t heard of 211? Well, there you go.

Lamoureux chairs the board of Information Sarnia Lambton, a non-profit, charitable organization initially funded by the province. It first began operating through the Chamber of Commerce in the mid-1960s. In 1990, the Chamber discontinued its role, passing off the effort and three full-time staff members who were fielding 15,000 questions a year.

After the Chamber stopped hosting Information Sarnia Lambton, that role was handled by the United Way.

In 1995, a new group of community volunteers got on board, its funding coming through sale of a Community Services Directory in print, and computer disks, many of them in a format not widely accessible. It also sold the database to other organizations.

Today, online access is through www.211Ontario.ca, although information Sarnia-Lambton has its own website and access to a database of organizations in Sarnia-Lambton.

In 2011, the local organization joined 211, a source Canadians trust when seeking information and services to deal with life’s challenges, says Lamoureux.

And with the proliferation of the Internet, having online access as well as the handy three-digit telephone number in hand makes for a 24/7 gateway that helps navigate a complex network of human services quickly and easily, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and in over 100 languages.

Lamoureux says surveys show some 9 out of 10 callers report being “very satisfied” with their experience with 211.

Confidentiality is key to how the system works. “No one will call back without your permission,” he says.

The goal of the 211 organization—to be seen as the authoritative source for credible information about human services—depends on the maintaining of high quality data and adoption of leading edge communications technology.

“The organization behind the 211 service is always working to improve access to the information,” says Lamoureux. “They are also using open data practices that encourage collaboration to develop innovative uses that contribute to the public good.”

The province supports 211 through funding through the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the federal government has provided support through Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

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