211 and Poverty – When You Don't Know Where to Turn

January 12, 2019 - 11:28am


You don't know what you don't know

Hundreds of people have had the chance to take part in Poverty Simulations offered through United Way Central Alberta (UWCA) and the Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance (CAPRA).  It's designed to give people a one-hour snap-shot of how living a life in poverty feels, and how difficult it is to navigate through many different agencies for the right kind of help. During the de-brief, participants are always surprised to find there were agencies that could have helped their situations.  They didn't access the help because they didn't know what role the agencies played.  Occasionally, one of the participants says something like "It's too bad there isn't a place where people can go to find out what services are available."

Ironically, there is.  211 is a community resource navigator available by phone at no cost for Red Deer city residents.  It's the number to call when you're not sure whom you're supposed to call.  "When you don't know where to turn" is a 211 motto. 

The most recent statistics regarding 211 calls from Red Deer show that almost one-third of people asking for information are living in poverty.  Seventeen percent called about basic needs and another 15 percent needed information about income support and employment.  The top referrals given to 211 callers were Alberta Works – Emergency Needs Allowance and Alberta Works – Income Support.   The help they receive from Alberta Works is vital, and there are often other underlying or co-issues that should be addressed.  That's where the expertise of 211's Information and Referral Specialists can guide people to additional help.

No Money for Medication

A Red Deer woman called 211 with financial concerns. She was pregnant and had health problems due to her pregnancy that required expensive treatment and medicine.  She didn't have the money for the medication she needed.  The issue was compounding the stress of her physical health. The Information and Referral Specialist gave her emotional support and information on accessing the Alberta Adult Health Benefit. The Specialist offered a follow-up call to ensure the caller was able to get connected with the resources she needed for a healthy pregnancy.  During the follow-up call the caller confirmed that she did get the help she needed. 

Woman Staying with Abuser – Has no Money to Leave

Another Red Deer woman called 211 and described living with her abusive boyfriend. She was from another province and moved to Red Deer to be with her boyfriend, but regretted the decision. She wanted to escape the abuse but needed help and didn’t know where to turn. She had no money due to financial abuse and was financially dependent, which was one of her reasons for staying with the abuser.  The I&R Specialist validated her feelings of being unsafe in her current environment. The Specialist then referred the caller to Alberta Works Emergency Needs Allowance and The Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter. The caller thanked the I&R Specialist for their patience and understanding. The caller was told that if she needed more support she could always give 211 a call again.

Poverty issues don't follow a 9-5 office schedule.  Often people are in urgent need of immediate help.  211 phone service is available 24 hours a day, every day.  Chat service is available online from 12 pm – 8 pm at ab.211.ca.  The after-hours availability of 211 proved invaluable for one chat client. 

Hungry Mother and Child

A Red Deer woman used the 211 Chat service after she saw an ad on Facebook. She needed food and help paying her utility bill. The specialist referred her to Red Deer Food Bank and Salvation Army.  The call was on a Friday night, meaning the resources would not be open until Monday.  Could she get through the weekend without more food?  She had a young daughter and didn't drive, so it was hard for her to go to places to get help. She also confided she wasn't sure if she could make it through the weekend without food. The specialist connected her with the Alberta Works Emergency Needs Allowance 24/7 phone line to ask about emergency food and utility assistance. The specialist encouraged her to connect with 211 again if she didn't get the help she needed.  

211 Offers a Broad Range of Help

These examples are basic.  People need money to pay for food, utilities, rent, and medicine.   When the basics are taken care of temporarily, there are many other poverty-related concerns that 211 can help with – from a lack of I.D. to a lack of education, counselling to manage the stress, anger, or depression due to poverty, financial literacy programs, immigrant and refugee programs, parenting programs, and much more.  It's also important to remember that you don't have to be calling for yourself.  You can call if you're worried about a family member, friend, neighbour, or anyone you think may be suffering in a life of poverty.  Help is available.  Make the right call.  Call 211.


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