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June 20, 2006 > 2-1-1 resource line proposed

2-1-1 resource line proposed

by Arnie Becker

Much like dialing 9-1-1 for emergencies, why not establish a network of operators providing critical information for non-life threatening emergencies, like temporary housing needs, mental health services, food banks and more? The answer: 2-1-1.

Conceived originally in Atlanta, Ga. in 1997, the 2-1-1 program received a strong financial boost in 2003 when the United Way began providing funding to networks nationwide. Presently, 190 active 2-1-1 systems serve approximately 165 million Americans, including most of Southern California.

In covered areas, citizens experiencing non-life threatening emergencies can be connected to resources simply by dialing 2-1-1. Along with the obvious resource assistance, other agencies could be connected to the 2-1-1 system including rental assistance services, Medi-Cal, Medicare, home health care agencies, Meals on Wheels to name a few.

Additional benefits are outlined in a fact sheet published by Hayward's Eden Information and Referral, Inc., "2-1-1 will make it easier for the public to access essential information before, during, and after a natural disaster or terrorist attack. The service will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and in multiple languages. It will assist people in finding a wide variety of vital resources such as emergency housing, food, financial aid, and healthcare. 2-1-1 will help everyone, but it will target the most at-risk populations including: frail elders, people with disabilities, caregivers, non-English speakers, single parent families, and very low-income families."

The driving force behind Alameda County's program has been Barbara Bernstein, executive director of Eden Information and Referral, Inc. She and others have been knocking on a lot of doors and addressing a lot of city councils in Alameda County. Hayward city council's June 13 vote to join the network left only four cities yet to commit: Alameda, Fremont, Livermore and Oakland. The vision is for Alameda County to join San Francisco and Contra Costa counties in fiscal year 2007.

Bernstein notes that numerous local corporations and foundations have contributed nearly $400,000 to date. Computers, phones and some staff stand ready to go online once the city contributions are secured. Each municipality is being asked for a two year commitment with a strong expectation of federal funding kicking in thereafter. In Washington, D.C., senators Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) have introduced bi-partisan legislation, the Calling 2-1-1 Act, which would provide that funding.

For more information, visit www.211.org.

 
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