United Way looks to bring 211 services to Northern B.C.

If you live in Southern B.C. and dial 211, chances are there will be someone on the other end of the phone to help you through, what might be, a very trying time in your life. 

Unfortunately, if you’re in a place like the Peace Country, that’s not the case — at least not yet. However, the United Way of Northern B.C. is hoping to change that.

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Operations Manager Trista Spencer explains that the BC 211 phone service has been in place for a number of years in areas like the Island and Lower Mainland, but not for anyone, generally, north of Williams Lake.

“It’s a social service resource and referral platform where people can essentially be hooked up in their area of need,” Spencer said.

Spencer points out that could be anything from finding food to trying to locate employment assistance or a home.

Until now, however, the service has only been available to northern residents online at www.bc211.ca. Spencer is hoping her group, with fundraising and help from local governments, will be able launch 211 to phones in the North. 

“We’re working with regional districts. We’re working with the province. In fact, all the United Ways across B.C. are working together to get an equitable service,” states Spencer. 

Besides helping to find short-term solutions, the program also provides links and information to agencies who specialize in addiction and mental health care. 

“They can focus either on their area (location) or their need. From there, they can get access to a whole list of resources, large to small. Everything that is funded and not funded by the government.”

Close to 15,000 entries are in the BC 211 data bank right now, Spencer said.

“It’s vetted and very comprehensive...and growing constantly,” Spencer said.

“It’s (not only) an excellent source for both the clients who need it, who are looking for that help, but the social service providers or the government constituents or the physicians who might be looking for that information, as well.”

To date, only the Peace River Regional District has committed to a funding formula to help the group get the service off the ground.  Directors with the PRRD voted recently to provide $26,515 for each of the next three years. 

“They saw the value right away. They automatically understood,” said Spencer. The United Way estimates it will need $80,000 annually for the first three years of the program. Spencer says some of the initial start-up would go towards marketing and education once the program is in place.

While it’s lobbying regional districts, the agency also made a presentation to an all-party provincial budget consultation stop in Prince George.

While it waits for a decision, Spencer is hoping that other levels of government will step forward see the value of the program in their communities.

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