Answering The Phones For bc211
What bc211 is, from the perspective of a call-taker
When Janette Razon picks up the phone, she never knows if the person on the other side will be tearfully reaching out for support, or just hoping to find their MLA’s phone number.
Working for bc211’s call service, Janette speaks to everyone from people in crisis, to those with a quick and simple question.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” she says.
But everyone who calls has one thing in common: they are looking for help. And people like Janette at bc211 are there to help them find it.
In case you don’t know, bc211 is a free directory service funded by the United Way organizations of B.C. You can call 2-1-1, and a community resource specialist like Janette will pick up and help you find and navigate the resource you’re looking for, be they local, provincial or federal. They can mean directing you to anything from emergency and crisis supports to financial assistance, counselling, housing supports, transportation, youth services and much more.
You can also access the directory and learn more about bc211 by going to www.bc211.ca.
“We get calls from people in many different situations,” says Janette. “[For example] someone who’s a teacher, a homeless person, a senior, a student, a traveller… people from all walks of life.”
“Someone could be calling and they are already crying on the phone.”
Other times, callers are exasperated and angry, and as the person on the other end of the line, Janette gets some of that. But no matter the person’s circumstances or their state of mind, Janette is trained to be supportive, to be able to deal these strong emotions, to safeguard her own, and to still do her job: pointing these people to supports that can help and helping them to navigate those supports.
“Unfortunately, I’m not a counsellor, I’m not a therapist, I’m not a lawyer,” she says. In other words, she’s not the one who can fix things for people. It can be difficult for folks when they realize that, she says. But the help Janette and others at bc211 provide is extremely important.
“I’m there for them to be able to navigate what is available.”
Though sometimes, what is available isn’t enough, she says. And those calls are particularly hard.
Janette remembers a call she had years ago from a homeless man that has stuck in her memory.
“This man was talking to me about having a suitcase … [containing] everything he had. And it’s raining … He put a picture in my mind of him walking around with wet shoes and a suitcase, going from shelter to shelter and being told that they have no space, and he asked me, ‘Do you know what that’s like?’”
“What am I going to say? I have a warm home to go to every night.”
“It was very difficult when someone asks you that.”
But far more often, there is help to point people towards, she says. And even when these calls seem routine, being able to talk to someone and walk them through how they can get help can be very impactful.
Janette remembers a recent call from a low-income senior that she could connect to the Safe Seniors, Strong Communities program. The call seemed pretty routine, she says, but by the end, the senior insisted on contacting Janette’s manager to express her gratitude.
That’s a reminder that even though she doesn’t know what happens to the folks who call her, what she does is helping people, says Janette.
With that in mind, Janette has a message:
"You are not alone. We are here to help."
If you need help finding supports in your community, call or text 2-1-1 to talk to a resource navigator, or go to www.bc211.ca . The service is free and confidential.