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211 service working to expand its reach in the community

Since the 211 service launched in 2008 in Eastern Ontario staff have answered more than 200,000 calls, helping people connect with the services they need.

"There's a really wide array of calls that we get in our call centre, pretty much anything that has a human component to it. It could be someone looking for home support programs for their parents, someone looking for a walk-in clinic, looking for a family doctor, Alzheimer's support, free income tax clinics, financial assistance, counselling, food banks," said Marie-Andree Carriere, the executive director of the Community Information Centre of Ottawa.

She said they answer the phones 24/7 in more than 150 languages and are able to assess people's needs immediately. Further conversations can also lead them to discover other needs in a person's life and the 211 staff will refer them to the right services.

"Every case is taken one on one, there's an assessment done on the call to understand the real reasons for the call. Sometimes someone might call with an initial response and through a conversation you find out that there's a lot more happening in that person's life," she said.

Unfortunately, the system is still underused and Carriere says they can accommodate twice the volume of calls they're currently receiving, about 60,000 a year.

The goal is to make 211 as commonplace as 311 and 411. The service is funded by the Province of Ontario and by the United Way and serves much of Eastern Ontario including Hawkesbury, Chalk River and Trenton.

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