Meet a MAP Member – BC211

bc211 is part of a national network of 211 services across Canada and is founded through the generous support of United Way across BC. The agency has a long history in Vancouver and has operated since 1953 beginning under the name Community Information Service. It was known for many years as the publishers of the Red Book, a directory of Health, Welfare and Recreations Services in Metro Vancouver.

Over the last 60+ years, the agency has grown from publishing directories to answering specialty helplines contracted by provincial ministries, then to becoming the first Canadian Information and Referral agency to be accredited through the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS). bc211 now offers 24/7 phone support to people in Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley, Squamish-Lillooet Regional Districts, the Sunshine Coast, and Vancouver Island. People from all over BC can also access their services through email, chat or self-serve on the province-wide online directory.

This year, in April, will mark the 10th anniversary since the agency has been operating under the name bc211. To begin this milestone year, bc211 is kicking off by celebrating National 211 Day on February 11th and looks forward to what the next decade will bring.

Q: What is your organization’s purpose?

​bc211 is an information and referral agency to find community resources, non-profit organizations, and government services. That means we strive to connect people with the appropriate supports that are available. Our agency is unique in that information and referral to connect clients with other resources is our main focus – for other organizations it may be just part of what they do. 

The information we have about resources covers many topics and we help people from all kinds of backgrounds navigate what is available in the community and find the most appropriate help. Often this can mean we have to do some problem solving if a need cannot be met directly, but there may be services that will at least address part of the need. We may also be empowering callers by offering information on how to communicate with direct service providers clearly so they can access services. Ultimately, it is about helping people to find the help that they need. 

Q: What resources or services does your organization provide specifically for refugee claimants?

One of the main resources that bc211 provides for refugee claimants is the Information for Refugee Claimants packet, which contains some basic information about the different services available to claimants, as well as some general information about the claim process. These packets are sent out to CBSA offices and various other agencies that come into contact with claimants to help them navigate the service system. Of course, claimants can also call bc211 directly to get information on where to go for more support as 211 is an easy number to remember when they are not sure where to start. 

Another important role for bc211 is to act as a bridging contact between claimants and some of the refugee claimant resources, like Red Cross and Kinbrace. We help by providing some initial screening to see if claimants may be eligible for their services. This is important so claimants are not having to needlessly call a program where they are not eligible for service, and it reduces the burden to the direct service providers having to field those calls.

Q: What is an example of a success you’ve had through your work with refugee claimants? 

Success is always a tricky thing for us to define. bc211 services are anonymous and we do not keep records of individuals who have called us. This can mean that people may feel more comfortable to call and speak with us, but also means we usually do not know the outcome for people who have called us after we direct them to other organizations. Occasionally, we may hear back from a caller who has successfully connected with a resource we have provided, and are now looking for other services. 

However, one big success that bc211 has been part of, is the Toward a Housing Solutions for Refugee Claimants report that MAP submitted to the provincial government which has led to funding for the development of a housing referral system. This success was the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people and agencies, and bc211 is proud to have been a part of that process and to have been able to contribute our knowledge through our work with claimants. We are also excited about a new housing referral project just launched and hope to be able to contribute further.

Is there anything else you’d like us to highlight?

​bc211 services are available 24/7 everyday of the year and we can serve people in any language. We have staff who speak different languages, and we have interpretation services that we can access on the spot. This means anyone can call anytime and know that they will be able to speak to someone about their concerns and get some information on possible options to help them. 

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