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February 11, 2014 > 2-1-1 Day celebrates Human Service Number

2-1-1 Day celebrates Human Service Number

Submitted By Mitchell Reitman, MSW, MA

Tuesday, February 11 is 2-1-1 Day, in recognition of the free, user-friendly phone number that serves 90 percent of AmericaÕs population, and connects some 16 million people a year to critical resources, information and services.

ÒIn Alameda County, 2-1-1 received over 104,000 calls for help last year and provided over 176,000 referralsÓ, said Barbara Bernstein, Executive Director of Eden I&R (Information & Referral). About half of the callers requested assistance with low income and affordable housing. People called for help to meet other basic needs, like heating or utility assistance, emergency help, or to find the closest food bank. But they also called for everyday information, to find out where to take their child for developmental screening, or how to locate job training or to find free tax filing support.

ÒWithout 2-1-1, callers can make an average of eight phone calls to different numbers before finding the services they need,Ó Ms. Bernstein said. Ò2-1-1 cuts through the red tape to save providers time and money, while helping Alameda County residents connect with the resources theyÕre looking for.Ó

2-1-1 was launched by United Way almost 20 years ago as a free way to connect people to essential resources. Today, 2-1-1 serves more than 283 million Americans -- more than 90 percent of our population -- in all 50 states, plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico. In 2012 (most recent data available, almost 16 million people called 2-1-1 in the U.S. about job training, employment, food pantries, help for an aging parent, addiction prevention programs, affordable housing options, support groups and volunteer opportunities. After a disaster, when many land lines arenÕt working, people call 2-1-1 to search out water, food, shelter, and disaster aid.

But 2-1-1 does more than connect people with help. It also takes the ÒpulseÓ of American communities. Calls to 2-1-1 Centers in many communities spiked before the recession was declared in 2009, for example. And in 2010, a national survey found 90 percent of 2-1-1 Centers were getting pleas for help from people whoÕd never sought any help from food pantries, public assistance or rent and utility help before. Many communities analyze 2-1-1 data as one social indicator of local needs and economic stability.

So what happens with a 2-1-1 call? When you dial 2-1-1 (for free), the call is routed to the local 2-1-1 Center. ItÕs answered by a trained information and referral specialist, who discerns your need, then searches a comprehensive database of relevant human service referrals. The 2-1-1 specialist explains how to access those services. In the case of a worker who has recently been laid off or whose hours have been reduced, the 2-1-1 specialist may share information about unemployment benefits, job search options, food stamps, food pantries, mortgage or rent help, utility assistance, counseling and other available resources.

To learn more about Eden I&RÕs services, go to 211alamedacounty.org.

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