Expansion of online database improves access to vital social services in Nanaimo

By Dominic Abassi
June 14, 2017 - 12:01am Updated: June 14, 2017 - 2:42pm

A huge online database of critical services has expanded to Vancouver Island.bc211.ca

NANAIMO — Critical services to help people experiencing some of life's most challenging situations are now easier to access on the mid-island.

Massive online database bc211.ca has expanded to all corners of B.C., launching in several communities, including Nanaimo, for the first time on Wednesday, June 14.

The directory, which includes a live chat help option, provides access to social, community, health and government services.

The expansion beyond the Lower Mainland is funded by the United Way. United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island executive director Signy Madden said they are constantly getting calls from people who either don't know about or can't find specific services.

"Many people don't want to walk into a place and say 'I don't know,' but they're happy to either at the library or home start searching for answers. It's really a response to the changing way people operate," Madden told NanaimoNewsNOW.

Madden used an example of someone in Nanaimo trying to find support for an elderly relative being released from hospital after a surgery in Courtenay. "You can do a search on bc211.ca and have a live chat to determine what services are available and get connected."

The 211 concept has grown across Canada over the last decade, with the B.C. version of the site serving nearly 300,000 people last fiscal year.

Madden said while the website is a huge benefit to people in need of help, it's equally as helpful to the local United Way. Centralized data collection will allow for more focused placement of resources.

"We'll be able to see what are people calling about, what are the services that people are most needing and that can help us determine how we fund going forward, or (how) municipalities fund because we can share that information."

Wait lists and limited funding are not the only reasons why people struggle to access the programs they need, Madden noted. "We hear often that many services still have the capacity to support people but people don't know they exist."

The local United Way pays $25,000 per year for bc211.ca services in their region. Madden said the goal is to fundraise to keep it going every year, while at the same time working to bring the phone and text version to the island in 2018.

"We're here to ensure people don't have to rely solely on Google to deal with sometimes difficult and often very personal situations," bc211 executive director Nathan Wright said.

Other examples of reasons people access the site included a family searching for child care services, recent immigrants looking for language services and a homeless person seeking a shelter.

— With files from Daryl Major


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On Twitter: @domabassi

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