Image: A celebratory cake baked for the 2016 211 launch in Red Deer County.

We’re celebrating 15 years of 211 Calgary! 211 launched in Calgary in 2005 as a partnership between Distress Centre Calgary, United Way of Calgary and Area and the City of Calgary. 211 Calgary is operated by Distress Centre. Since 2005, 211’s Community Resource Specialists have responded to over 580,000 calls, chats, texts and emails from Albertans seeking services.

*Darrel was one of those contacts.

Darrel called 211 inquiring about home care services for his wife who has been experiencing problems with her physical health. The Community Resource Specialist provided the caller with resources such as The Way In, Health Link, and Alberta Health Services Home Care. The Specialist explained how these resources are organized and how they can provide assistance, then offered a follow-up call to see if these resources were a fit for Darrel and his wife.

211 staff in 2006.

During the follow-up call, Darrel said he was able to contact the agencies, was supported and felt everything was on track for him and his wife. The Specialist encouraged Darrel to call again for further support if needed.

24 hours a day, 365 days a year our Community Resource Specialist have conversations like these, connecting people like Darrel with help and resources.

The early years of 211

24 hour phone support became available in 2006 and we were granted AIRS accreditation the same year. By 2008, 211 Alberta began working to bring 211 to the rest of the province. This goal would be realized in 2020.

In 2009, the recession resulted in an increase in the complexity of issues reported in 211 calls as well as the severity of risk. 211 Calgary began leveraging social data to help with mapping issues in communities throughout the city, develop programs in areas of need, and targeting assistance in the hardest hit populations.

In 2011, 211 became data partners with InformAlberta. InformAlberta is a provincial online directory of community, health, social and government organizations and services. Alberta Health Services owns InformAlberta and it is maintained by multiple data partners.

Learn more about the early years of 211.

The later years: 211 and disaster response

211 staff in 2004, while 211 was still soft launched in Calgary.

211 is a critical service during large scale emergencies. In 2013, 211 was leveraged during the Alberta floods to assist displaced and affected Albertans, as well as to provide information on volunteering and donating for citizens wanting to help. During this time, calls to 211 increased by 40% and 211 service was extended to High River to help those impacted by the flood.

When the Fort McMurray/Wood Buffalo wildfires occurred in 2016, 211 played a critical role in supporting evacuees by providing up-to-date information and connected donors and volunteers with agencies they could support. Online chat was launched province-wide to give evacuees another way to contact 211. By 2020, 211 would have 24/7 phone, chat and text support available.

In 2019, Distress Centre Calgary began to manage the database that had previously been overseen by the City of Calgary Information Centre. We formed the Community Resource Database team – a team that has been critical to ensuring frequently changing information has been up-to-date during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the later years of 211.

COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Calgary in March 2020, we quickly saw a massive increase in demand for 211. Since the first COVID-19-related contact was registered on January 26, 2020, there has been a 73% increase in 211 contacts compared to the same period last year.

img des: Four people sitting on a couch holding a cake that says "we passed!"

211 staff celebrate with cake after we successfully renewed our AIRS accreditation in 2019.

In 2013, we briefly evacuated our contact centre due to the flooding, but this year we experienced something unprecedented. In March, we took our contact centre completely remote in response to the pandemic, setting up our staff to respond to contacts from home. There was no disruption to services. Nearly 10 months later, some staff have volunteers have returned to our contact centre, but the 211 team remains completely remote.

“For all Albertans, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of widespread change and adjustment. Throughout 2020, and for all needs people may have, including COVID-19 related, 211 has and will continue to be there 24/7,” said Chloé McBean, who was 211 Program Manager for two years before recently leaving the role in November 2020.

“This includes response in times of disaster, coaching and advocacy for complex needs such as finances, connection to crisis and mental health supports, and more. 211 is a key place, where no matter what is going on for people and the community at large, where individuals can reach out and be connected with the diverse choice of social, government, health, and community services.”

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Celebrating 15 years

Though the pandemic made an in-person celebration of 211’s 15th Anniversary impossible for now, responding to this huge world-wide threat has only further emphasized the importance of 211 and the need for 211 to be available to all Albertans and all Canadians. Excitingly in 2020, 211 became available across Canada.

Thank you to the staff, funders, advocates and everyone who has played a part in the success and longevity of 211 Calgary. Thank you to 211 Edmonton and 211 Alberta: our collaborative efforts have ensured the best possible service for our service users. It has been a great 15 years and we’re excited for what the future holds.

To learn more about 211 and how to contact us, visit the 211 Alberta website.

*This story is based on a real call but details have been changed to protect the caller’s confidentiality.