211, Crisis Diversion offer 'a raft in rough seas'

When vulnerable people are facing a crisis, there is often a brief period of time before that crisis becomes an emergency, and that’s where 24/7 Crisis Diversion comes in.

Crisis Diversion teams help people experiencing non-emergency crises get to a safe place, freeing up police and emergency medical services to respond to more critical events.

This work involves a large volume of calls every day, and 211 helps navigate the journey from the initial call, to getting the client the help they need.

“Here at 211, we’re the dispatch or intake part of the process,” says Holly Hardison, Community Resource Specialist with 211. “It’s an easy number to remember: 211 and press 3 and you’ll be on the line with one of us.”

If you see someone in non-emergency distress and call 211, Holly and her colleagues will assess what you’re seeing and, if needed, dispatch a team.

While partners such as police and emergency services can connect with Crisis Diversion directly, 211 handles all the calls that come from the public. 

The service handles dispatch for Crisis Diversion, but that is just part of the work they do, acting as an information referral hub for all kinds of services for people in widely varying levels of distress.

Crisis Diversion calls make up about 25% of the calls 211 receives. 

“I think it’s a great fit to do dispatch and intake for Crisis Diversion because of the amount of crisis intervention training and trauma informed training we have in order to do our regular jobs, and those skills are transferable,” says Holly.

“Communicating with someone in crisis is delicate at the best of times, so having someone on the line that’s trained in crisis intervention is a benefit to the service.

If 211 receives a call for Crisis Diversion that doesn’t really fit the mandate of the program, they can refer to the resources that are appropriate for the situation, rather than declining help and turning them away without alternatives.

“They get 2500 calls a month and only about 1600 of them are for Crisis Diversion and about 800 of those get dispatched,” says Claire MacDonald, Project Coordinator for 24/7 Crisis Diversion at REACH Edmonton.  “They do a lot of triage and navigation on their end. 

Without this specialized ability to handle intake and triage, Crisis Diversion would run as smoothly. 

“Without 211, I don't know that we could be as coordinated as a  program,” says Claire. “Partners would have to be more siloed to get the work done. With 211 they’re able to coordinate the efforts between the teams. There would be more people in the community lost without 211.”

While often the calls for Crisis Diversion are coming from concerned community members who are witnessing someone in distress, sometimes they are talking directly to the person in crisis. 

“Recently, someone had fled a violent situation, so they had popped into a church and were scared, terrified, of police,” says Holly.” Being able to have a speakerphone conversation with her and the people with her made a big difference. We told them what to expect when Crisis Diversion arrives, so they thought, actually, this doesn't sound so scary.”

“It’s tough, but I think, when you’re in a crisis, having someone who’s calm and helpful to talk to is a raft in the rough seas,” she says.

These days stick with Holly, as she knows that that person is being connected to the help they need.

“When you’re able to turn it around and you’ve got them to accept help, it feels like you’re seeing that light at the end of the tunnel, hearing hope in people’s voices,” she says. 

Holly encourages Edmontonians to take the time to call 211 if they see someone in non-emergency distress. 

“I think it’s important to realize that it's a human being on their worst day, a human who has a story and matters to someone and they need dignity and respect and compassion now more than ever,” she says. “ I get that people don’t want to get involved, but if you call us you’ve done something, and it’s not nothing. We’ll sort it out.”

“Just be compassionate, and remember that we’re all a part of this community” she says. “It doesn’t cost any money to pick up the phone and call.”

The 24/7 Crisis Diversion program is a collaborative partnership with Boyle Street Community Services, Canadian Mental Health Association (211 program), HOPE Mission, and REACH Edmonton with stakeholders from Edmonton Police Service and Alberta Health Services Emergency Medical Services.

For more information about Crisis Diversion, click here.



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