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September 3, 2008 > 2-1-1 Phone Service Links People to Community Resources

2-1-1 Phone Service Links People to Community Resources

There's a new kid on the block.

Everyone is familiar with various "N-1-1" numbers controlled by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). For example, 9-1-1 is for police, fire and medical emergencies. 4-1-1 is for telephone directory information. And 5-1-1 is for traffic reports.

But what is 2-1-1?

"The FCC has designated 2-1-1 as a special abbreviated dialing number for people to quickly access vital community resources that they need 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Barbara Bernstein, MSW, Executive Director of Eden I&R (Information and Referral).

To help people learn more about community services available via 2-1-1, Washington Hospital Senior Care is sponsoring a free Health & Wellness seminar on Tuesday, September 9 from 10 a.m. to noon. Ms. Bernstein will provide information on various health, housing and human services available through 2-1-1. Gary Ashley, Captain of the Fremont Fire Department, will provide an overview of fire safety and disaster preparedness information. The seminar will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. For more information about the seminar, or to register to attend, please call (800) 963-7070

A nonprofit agency with 32 years of experience in connecting people in the county with health, housing and human resources, Eden I&R has been operating the 2-1-1 Alameda County service since July 1, 2007. Since the official launch of the service, they have fielded more than 46,100 calls and provided more than 77,000 referrals to resources such as:
* Emergency housing for people who are homeless, are victims of domestic violence or have lost their homes due to fire or other calamities.
* Permanent housing referrals, with a housing database to help find openings. Listing on the database is free for landlords and access to the listings is free for prospective tenants.
* Rental assistance programs for one-time assistance in paying rent.
* Utility assistance to help people negotiate payments on overdue utility bills.
* Respite and other programs for people who are caregivers for people with Alzheimer's disease or other disabilities.
* Residential care facilities.
* Food programs, including organizations that provide meals onsite and/or groceries for pick-up as well as those that deliver cooked meals to the home.
* Legal assistance.
* Psychological and family counseling.
* Health care services.
* Alcohol and substance abuse programs.
* Transportation services information.

"Many people who call 2-1-1 have more than one need," Ms. Bernstein notes. "For example, we might assist a woman who is a victim of domestic violence with referrals to emergency shelter, legal aid and child care services.

"Callers who do not speak English are assisted by our onsite resource specialists who are fluent in Spanish, Cantonese and Vietnamese," she adds. "We also can connect to a 'real-time' interpreter from TeleInterpreters, a company that provides translations between the caller and the Eden I&R resource specialist in more than 100 languages. In addition, we offer TTY phone services for people who are deaf or hearing impaired."

Establishing the 2-1-1 Alameda County program was a lengthy process. "Resources for responding to 2-1-1 calls must be provided locally by a nonprofit organization," Ms. Bernstein explains. "Although the FCC controls the numbers, currently there is no federal funding provided, nor do they establish any guidelines for setting up the service."

In collaboration with other members of the California Alliance of Information and Referral Services (CAIRS), Eden I&R went to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and recommended criteria that the CPUC should look for when designating a 2-1-1 provider for a community:
* 24/7 service.
* Multiple language capability.
* An up-to-date database of services in the community.
* A letter of recommendation from the local Board of Supervisors.
* Multiple letters of recommendation from service organizations in the community to prove their support for the proposed 2-1-1 service operator.

"We were designated as the Alameda County 2-1-1 provider in December, 2003," Ms. Bernstein notes. "Then it took us four years to get the funding to launch the program, including getting the county and every city in the county to contribute. All the work was worth the effort, though, and our first year was a huge success. We are also grateful for the financial support of numerous businesses and foundations, as well as our partners in providing community services - including Washington Hospital."

Learn More about 2-1-1
If you would like additional information about the 2-1-1 information phone line, contact Barbara Bernstein, Eden I&R's Executive Director at (510) 537-2710, ext. 8, or go online to

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