More help is on the way to connect Saskatchewan people with essential community resources.

United Way Saskatchewan announced it has expanded its 211 service, which helps connect people to resources such as doctors, counsellors, child-care providers and housing. For years, the service has been available online, but now people can get help by phone, text and online chat 24/7.

“When you increase the ability to access services and supports — when you remove those barriers — there’s nothing that excites us more. So the fact that people are now going to be able to pick up their phone and shoot off a text to ask for help and some guidance around the supports they need in the community that is so exciting,” said Shaun Dyer, CEO of United Way Saskatoon and Area.

Dyer said last year, 110,000 people used the 211 Saskatchewan website, with the three biggest searches being mental health, child and family support.

“Those are the things that people have identified as the greatest needs in our province, based on our research and data. And so it means a significant amount in terms of being able to quickly and efficiently and compassionately direct people to the services that they need,” said Dyer.

The expansion will also help relieve some pressure from the Saskatoon Police Service.

“It gives our officers a tool that they can share with people who they encounter on the street who are looking for advice. And it also helps with our 911 system, people who are looking for information rather than action. Currently they call 911 for information about social services, after hours particularly. This is a way for them to find another source of information that’s more appropriate than calling the 911 system,” said Chief Troy Cooper.

“About 70 per cent of the work we do is not criminal in nature, so we deal with people who are in distress, whether it’s mental health issues or people who are lost or need assistance. And for us to be able to point them in the direction where they can access those resources on their own without requiring police intervention, that’s pretty critical for our policing resource delivery model.”

Saskatchewan is the third province in Canada to expand its 211 service, which is available in more than 100 languages.