A 211 call system to connect Central Albertans to a range of community, health, government and social services information is expected to be up and running by next summer or fall.
The 211 system, a simple three-digit telephone call like 911 for emergencies or 411 for directory assistance, has been available in Edmonton and Calgary for several years.
In Central Alberta, it will enhance what was offered by Community Information and Referral Society (CiRS), now called Volunteer Red Deer.
Robert Mitchell, CEO of United Way of Central Alberta and member of the provincial 211 steering committee, said 211 — a confidential, multi-lingual, 24-hour system — will ensure everyone will have access to information, particularly the most vulnerable populations, like seniors.
“It’s a free phone call. You don’t need to have an Internet connection,” Mitchell said.
“It will kind of replace all the other information sources. It puts it all in one place. If you need community information across a whole broad spectrum of issues, call 211.”
Human service professionals often use 211 to get information for their clients, he said.
Some parts of Canada have 211 and Alberta is now working on a provincial 211 network.
“From June onward, it’s going to roll out across the province. Some areas are further ahead than other areas.
“What (Central Alberta) needs to do is update our data base locally. We’ve got about 70 per cent. That will be the first stage before the phone line goes live. We’re hoping to do that in the next quarter.”
Central Alberta calls would be answered by the 211 call centre in Edmonton by people trained in information referral who will ask callers questions to assess exactly what callers need.
Mitchell said 80 per cent of funding to operate the provincial 211 system will come from the province.
A $3.5-million provincial grant is anticipated in the new year and the province is initially committed for about three years.
United Ways across Canada have supported 211 and United Way of Central Alberta is initially providing $10,000 this year.
A total of $20,000 will be required annually from municipalities in the region.
“I think it will be a good thing for the region. We want to ensure vulnerable people in our community have access to the resources they need and this is just one part of that, an important part,” Mitchell said.
Sam Denhaan, a member of Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance, said he still prefers a community office like CiRS that people could visit or call for information.
But 211 could work if staff have enough information to pass along to callers, he said.
“This is a very legitimate item to be funded out of the city tax base,” Denhaan said.